Reasons to be Cheerful?

Duncan Bowyer – Associate Senior Leader and Lead Practitioner

If you are anything like me the New Year can start with many a good intention – New Year resolutions being one of them! How long will they last I wonder? A few days, a few weeks? I am sure there are many of you reading this who are much better at sticking to a resolution than I (my new gym bag still lies in the hall unused!).  

January is a time for reflection; the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of why we teach.

joy painting brush
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on

Given the pressures that we face in our working lives it is sometimes challenging to remember why we do the job that we do…but for many of us the answer is simple – it is because of the students. We do this job because we want young people to have all the opportunities they deserve! We want our colleagues to get the opportunities that they deserve!

The reality is that this profession has a huge number of challenges;  larger class sizes, diminishing budgets, colleagues being asked to take on extra responsibilities without extra money or time being able to be offered to them. For many of us this time of year means the mocks and trying to fit in the marking of these exams in an already packed schedule.

It may sound ‘PollyAnnaesque’ but it is at these times of pressure when we can see the reasons why we went into this profession in the first place. Many years after training I can still hear my PGCE Tutor’s voice resounding in my mind highlighting  the joys that we have in our jobs everyday.

So, remembering the words of that tutor here are some little reminders of what she always said can bring us joy…

  1. Our students: Of course this had to be number one. Seeing how students progress, grow and mature is the main reason why we come in everyday. If we know that a student is able to have much better life choices thanks to the efforts of a school then surely that is enough to help spur us on when the going gets tough.
  2. Our colleagues, our family at school: In times of stress we see how a school can band together, can protect, support and develop staff. Aside from the students it is the staff in all aspects of school life who are the beating heart and soul of our education system. Like many of you I have lifelong friends who I have met in school. Where else can you soak up the years of wisdom and experience that we have in many staff rooms up and down the country?
  3. Our subject: We all picked our subject for a reason – in what other job are we lucky enough to spend all day talking about the one thing we have a real love for? I will never forget as a student seeing Mrs Hudson crawling along the floor in our English lesson pretending to be the monster from Beowulf, or Miss Hardy painting numbers onto the piano to help us all learn our scales more effectively. In what other job can we escape into the wonderful world of Science, see the beauty of Maths, or help students communicate with each other in melodic and exciting different languages?
  4. Our resilience: We can take anything that gets thrown at us! We can remain calm, focused and support those students and colleagues who at times are struggling. This gives us a massive advantage in life – dealing with the education of hundreds of young people can prepare us to take on the world!
  5. Our joy: A recent study highlighted that those who work in a school laugh – on average – 20% more a day than those who work in an office! That has to make us feel good.

Finally – we are human, we have days where we are stroppy and stressed. However, I am sure that if we think about some of the above reasons to be cheerful then it will make scraping the ice off of the car first thing on a cold winter’s morning that more bearable.

Critical Thinking, Literacy

Critical Thinking for All

Hannah Evans – Assistant Headteacher


It is far from surprising that, when asked,  teachers who are working on a collaborative KS5 transition project here at Sarah Bonnell revealed that their main reason for signing up was to enhance the way in which their students think critically.  They want them to engage in independent thought and establish lines of argument. Isn’t that what we all want from our students? A sense of personal response, of real engagement in and evaluation of the things that they are learning about? It’s what John Hattie calls “deep learning”: when students can ‘think critically and develop a deep understanding’ in their lessons. This is an area of pedagogy I am really interested in and, as a teacher of mixed ability classes, I am even more interested in the ways in which I can engage all students, regardless of their starting points, in this type of learning.  Here are a few strategies that have worked for me because they really do foster insight and enquiry for all.


What would Simone say?

Whichever author, monarch, sociologist or scientist students are learning about, share a current news story with them and ask them to consider what the figure would think.  For example, what would Elizabeth Ist think of Brexit? What would Dickens think of the rise in food bank usage? How would Simone de Beauvoir respond to the ‘Me Too’ movement? What would Genghis Khan think about increasing diversity in the UK?  The idea is to get students to negotiate the ideologies of key thinkers so that they can be confident in applying them in their critical essays.


Harkness Discussions

I learned about this strategy from one of our maths Lead Practitioners; she told me about the Harkness Method which encourages students to take control of their own discussions by setting challenging questions about a text or topic.  John Hattie’s research found that classroom discussion was ranked the seventh most effective strategy out of 150 strategies to enhance learning, so it seems essential that we consider the ways in which discussion can be harnessed to generate critical and evaluative thinking. The diagram below details the way in which the process can be set up and facilitated. For me, the most interesting part of it is the fact that when students set the questions for the discussion, they give them a challenge rating, thus ensuring that they are constantly evaluating the sophistication of their own ideas and questions.  


Empowering language

Giving students the right language so that they can sound critical in their approach is really empowering for students who may not have an existing flair for using an evaluative style. I like to challenge my students to use one new critical technique in their essays each time to encourage them to reflect on the way they write, not just what they are writing about. Students enjoy building up their repertoire of sophisticated methods and I will often ask students to share their ‘showcase sentences’– sentences that really demonstrates sharp and clear expression of thought.


Model high expectations of critical thought

Sharing great critical writing with your students is, I think, the best way to enhance their critical thinking and style.  Some of my favourites are Caitlin Moran, Elizabeth Day, Barack Obama, Virginia Woolf and Gary Younge. These great journalists and orators will save you hours of model writing time and inspire students to see that having a critical viewpoint really does matter in the real world.

Diagnostic Teaching, Numeracy, Time saving teaching, Work/Life balance

Question Level Analysis

Hafsa Farhana – Lead Practitioner for Maths

Teaching a year 11 class can be daunting, especially when you know very little about them. This was one of the challenges I faced when I started teaching two year 11 classes at Sarah Bonnell. I wanted to get an overview of their strengths and weaknesses and use that to plan my teaching for the rest of the year. I needed to make sure that all of my lessons were effective in order to maximise learning in a short amount of time. To do this I used question level analysis (QLA) tables from the beginning of the academic year. This helped me devise a Scheme of Learning catered to my class.

QLAs are all readily available from exam boards websites with conditional formatting so you can see the Red, Amber and Green (RAG) scores for each student. I would also calculate the average as a class and RAG each topics. This is now a method employed by the Maths department for our year 11s to ensure we use the build up to the summer exam effectively and can have a systematic approach to revision.

A comment I often heard from students is that they didn’t know where to begin with their revision so I always share the analysis with the class and individual students. The feedback from students is that they found QLAs useful as they were able to hone in on their weakness so that their revision was purposeful.


The QLAs enable me to give whole class feedback, for example, anything that is Red as a class average, I will need to reteach as a priority. This could be as a whole lesson or part, a starter, homework or a flipped learning activity. The Amber topics can be addressed through starters in lesson or using experts in the class to support the learning of those who weren’t as successful as them in those particular topics. Anything above 75% are the strengths of my class and therefore not a priority to revisit.


When I first started doing this the downfall was that it was very time consuming to enter the data myself. Asking students to fill in the google sheet posed a problem as some students did not want their classmates to see their results. However, I recently discovered how easy it was to do using Google Forms.

I created a Google Form so that I could collect individual scores of my students and shared the form onto the Google Classroom. Within minutes my I collected all their results; I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was!


This populates a Google Sheet which I then export and copy into the QLA file.

QLAs are not restricted to just exams, but they are very effective when used with diagnostic questions. Another way I use QLAs is by create a sub-SOL, where I can address the topics identified as starters for the term, thereby ensuring students are making progress without deviating from the department SOL so all topics are taught. The next thing I am keen to try is to use the QLAs to support my class in creating a revision timetable.


Collaboration, Diversity, Group work, Professional development, Reflection

Collaborative and Reflective Staff Networks in Education

group hand fist bump
Photo by on

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.

Google Classroom

5 reasons why you should start using Google Classroom right now!


Charlotte Paine – Assistant Headteacher

At Sarah Bonnell, we are well on our journey towards adopting Google to streamline our school systems, increase our ‘anytime, anywhere access’ and collaborate effectively.

Google Classroom is our next stage of development, modernising the way we teach our students, encouraging them to become independent, stretch and challenge all students including our HPA, and differentiate effectively so that we are truly providing ‘Education for All.’

Here are five quick reasons why you should give Google Classroom a try, if you haven’t already of course!

1. Send students, or groups of students, bespoke assignments.

Classroom’s ‘Assignment’ function allows you to send work to any student, or group of students, in your Classroom.  Each student receives only the assignment that you have set them, which means that multiple differentiated versions of the same assignment can be sent out to different students.  This is a really handy function for students who require additional challenge – you can add different links or documents to their assignments – as well as students requiring additional scaffolding, who can access different resources as part of their assignment.  Combine with the ‘Reuse Post’ function to subtly adapt assignments to meet the needs of all students.

2. Ensure students who have missed the lesson don’t fall behind.

Classroom is a game changer in this way.  Using the ‘Assignment’ function mentioned above, you can easily send the lesson objectives/content/work to any student(s) who has been absent.  If they complete it on Classroom and then ‘turn in’ to you, you can quickly and easily check understanding, and use the ‘comment’ function to provide formative feedback where necessary.  Setting homework through Classroom also means that students can access it whether they have been in school or away, and that the classic ‘I didn’t know what the homework was’ excuse is thoroughly redundant!

3. Streamline your marking, provide effective feedback that students can action, and never lose track of work again!

The new version of Classroom, released this summer, had made improvements to the process of providing feedback on work submitted through an Assignment.  Clicking on the work that has been ‘turned in’ opens a new interface, which allows you to mark/provide feedback on each response in turn. Additional features include a comment bank which means you need only type those common feedback comments once, and then you can insert them into any students’ work where relevant.  I recently marked 24 exam questions in 36 minutes – a task that would previously have taken me well over an hour. Using the ‘Topic’ choice function when setting the Assignment also means that the work will be collected into a named Classroom folder on your Drive – meaning you can see at a glance what has been completed, and access it for future reference.

4. Save time with the ‘Reuse Post’ function.

If you teach more than one class in a year group, or have courses (especially GCSEs) that are taught year-on-year, you can reuse old Classroom posts across any Classroom.  When clicking ‘Create’ choose the ‘Reuse Post’ function, and then choose which Classroom, and which post, you wish to reuse. Even better, it will load the post, and allow you to make any edits before posting it again.  This is particularly helpful I find for students who haven’t completed homework – you can resend it to them, which removing from the student list anyone who has already completed it. It also works well between teachers, one person can construct the post, and others can ‘reuse’ it in their Classrooms.  Just make sure you have invited your colleagues to be co-teachers to your original Classroom.

5. Link to other Google apps, ensuring students have access to everything they need to be successful.

Google works best with Google, meaning that Classroom allows seamless linking to other Google apps including Forms (great for self-marking quizzes and easy data analysis), YouTube, Docs, Slides, Sheets and weblinks.  Collecting together resources for your students in this way, using either the ‘Assignment’ or ‘Material’ post functions allows you to curate a collection of links and resources for your students that is so much more tailored to their needs and objectives than just searching the internet.  Combined with the handy ‘Topic’ labelling function, your students can return to these resources time and time again, particularly useful for GCSE and A Level classes for whom you can build a bank of revision resources.

Collaboration, Diversity, Multimodal Learning, Student Leadership

Multimodal Learning: Inclusion, Collaboration and Identity

abstract blackboard bulb chalk
Photo by Pixabay on

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner for Inclusion and Drama

As is the case, I’m sure, with many colleagues, I often like to take a step back and think about how far I’m meeting my own conception of the teacher I want to be. My initial step was to buy a huge stack of certificates and stickers to celebrate my students’ learning, and my second step was to buy and wear a rather frivolous neck-tie (we could consider the merits of authentic role-modelling on another occasion). A rather more meaningful moment of self-reflection came as I thought about my lessons. Are they meaningful and joyful? Are they challenging and collaborative? Do they facilitate student independence and celebrate young people’s diverse identities? In thinking through these questions, I returned to the notion of multimodal learning.

    Multimodal approaches to learning recognise the reality of the physical and social spaces which classrooms are, broadening the terms of what learning is and how it happens. The kind of tools I have found to be helpful have included images, video-clips, sounds and music. Concrete objects and props can be combined with art, text and discussions, to not only open up mediums of learning, but also to diversify the ways young people can demonstrate their understanding. Drama, collaboration and teacher-in-role can engage students’ imaginative and lived experiences in relation to the world, across the curriculum. Our school has recently embraced Google Drive and Google Classroom, with exciting potential for the impact of technology on learning.

    I would suggest that multimodality in the classroom can promote inclusivity as it removes barriers to learning by offering various pathways to engage with the lesson; it can equally promote challenge by encouraging creative thinking amongst learners. Through its celebration of the social resources of the classroom, it promotes collaboration and communication skills. By championing young people’s different interpretations – when used meaningfully, multimodal approaches should include diverse representations of ethnicity, sexuality, religion and gender and identity – it can celebrate young people’s diverse identities; by sharing images of different groups of people, exploring multiple identities through drama and discussion, and representing diverse individuals through art. Importantly, it can bring a sense of energy, engagement and excitement ot the classroom. I certainly wouldn’t say I have become my perfect self-identity as a practitioner, but by employing multimodal approaches, I have taken a step closer to becoming the kind of teacher I have always hoped to be.

Student Leadership

How Flipped Learning can change your classroom

Rabiah Mahmood

Over the past few years, the idea of ‘talk-less’ teaching has garnered much attention and we are encouraged to adopt it as standard classroom practice for many reasons; it reduces teacher talk, emphasises to students the importance of them working as hard (if not harder) than the teacher to facilitate their progress, increases student engagement and allows us to spend more time circulating the classroom and assessing the strengths and needs of our students.

To get to this point, lessons need to be planned in a way that allows students the opportunity to seek information for themselves, to use their prior knowledge to advance with the information they are provided with in lessons. This is where flipped learning comes in; if the information students need to know can be given to them before the lesson, this will allow us to spend more time with them in lesson on the application of theory, practical work and exam practice, as opposed to using that time to introduce key concepts to them. Using this approach has allowed me to spend the majority of my contact time with students doing exactly that – being in contact with them, communicating with them personally and individually, clarifying any confusions and misconceptions, explaining ideas on a 1-1 basis to personalise each student’s learning experience and build relationships to promote a positive learning environment.

So, how can you share with students the information they need to know outside of the lesson?

If the resources students use in lessons are accessible to them outside of school, for example, a textbook they can take home, buy themselves, or better still, access for free online, they can be encouraged to pre-read the upcoming lesson and make notes to prepare for the lesson content. To provide some structure, the task can be scaffolded by constructing comprehension style questions to ensure students are able to access the fundamental ideas within the information they are pre-reading. These do not need to be extensive; a few key questions can be enough. These can be uploaded on to Edmodo in advance of the lesson for students to complete in their own time, or shared with them however you would prefer in advance of the upcoming lessons.

Another way that students can be prepared for a new unit of work is by asking them to define key terms they will be expected to use and apply; again, a simple table with the key terminology can be constructed to ensure students are provided with some structure and this will become a glossary within their notes, which they can reference any time they need. They can also be asked to enhance the task creatively by drawing images to help them understand what the key terminology means or by using it in a sentence. To stretch students, they can be asked to apply what they understand by answering textbook questions, and to differentiate, a different version of the information can be provided to support students with the task, such as a website aimed at a lower key-stage or watching a video instead.

Using the flipped learning approach will allow more in-class lesson time to be dedicated towards ensuring students have a richer learning experience, will involve our students more directly in the process of teaching, learning and assessment, and it will, hopefully, change your experience as a classroom practitioner for the better, as it has mine.