Facilitating the facilitator: building rapport

What do you do when you are facilitating a group of people who you don’t know well?

One of the first things you need to is build rapport with the group, without this, you can’t start the process of building trust, without trust the learning space isn’t safe.

So how can facilitators go about this?

This blog will look at three things I do to establish rapport in the first session of a Lesson Study.
1) Establish the space
2) Promote initial discussion
3) Reflect the learning to the group

Establishing the space

When I talk about space in Lesson Study, I am not talking about a physical space. Yes, physical spaces are important, but realistically in schools they might be the only available space. I currently have one group that meets in a room next door to violin lessons, which can make for some very interesting sessions. So, there is only so much you can do to improve physical spaces. The space I am talking about is the collaborative space. This is the environment within which the collaborative work will exist.

For me, I initially create this collaborative space through discussing and establishing a way of working, or the protocols of the collaboration. Dudley (2014) writes in his handbook about how protocols are important (and gives some very useful examples) and I am finding them an increasingly good place to start when I work with a group. In fact, I often let the group read Dudley’s (2014) protocols as a starting point for creating their own version in their own words.

I set up and discuss protocols with all groups, even when I know that the group will be aware of the protocols (because they have done Lesson Study before). This is because this is the first opportunity to have the group negotiate with each other, to discuss and hold opinions. Collet (2019) disagrees with my approach because the protocols (norms) are already established and the group can be focused by the learning at hand. I suppose to some degree everyone’s norms are established and so I understand Collet’s perspective. I am also interested in her approach, and I wonder how she then understands the dynamics of her new group. As I find the protocol discussion is key for understanding my new group.

The discussion around protocols is key because I find them useful for exploring where the group membership stands on different aspects of the protocols. For example, how do they view this collaboration? What protocols do they as a group prioritise and what thinking is their thinking behind that?

As a facilitator this information is vital for my work, because if a group places the joint-ness of togetherness higher than disagreement, you might have a group who do not want to rock the boat – a group that might have a tendency towards affirmation and therefore avoidance of conflict. Equally a group that might place that we need to be able to say what we are thinking as a priority might need to reflect on ensuring that they are collaboratively invested so all praise and critique is shared – as to avoid dysfunctional working.

The protocols establish the space (the physical space is less important) and reference to the protocols as needed reminds people of the boundaries of that space. While the ordering of the protocols is unimportant in the end, as a facilitator, how things are ordered gives you a first insight into what is happening between the participants and therefore the wider group.

Promoting initial discussion

Once the space is created, I like to give something to discuss (an article, blog post or thinking point) as my next step in building rapport.

Ideally this will be an article or blog that links well to the groups intended enquiry topic, but also something that is likely to promote discussion. Tom Sherrington’s blog The #1 problem/weakness in teaching and how to address it (2019) suits this purpose well as it is both brilliantly written but strikes to the heart of practice. In essence, this promotes a discussion, and allows me as the facilitator to see how the discussion plays out. Again, it is safe as it is about a distant author, who they can agree or disagree with. With the group feeling safe, you see how they interact. You can start to hear how future discussions might play out and you can start to reflect, summarise the discussions and think about any structures that might help build their talk so that it is productive. This again tells you information about the group and establishes your rapport with the group.

The initial discussions are ones that are important to reflect on. Think about how each person interacted. Did they all speak? Did they share the space? How did they build on, agree with or oppose each other? Also, as the facilitator, what did you do? Did you interact, sit back, share, bounce ideas? Or did you need to promote talk. These are all important to how you might need to work as a facilitator and thinking about this will help you be more informed about what is happening in the collaboration and what you might need to bring to the collaborative space next time.

Reflecting the learning of the group

Finally, in session one, recapping, and identifying how the group will evolve is important. Recapping the discussion, capturing what the group have said and the questions they have raised are powerful for outlining the work of the next session. You are now building rapport with the group, reflecting their learning and helping them start to wrestle with it.

This recap might also create a starting point for session two. I think it is important that I leave the group feeling ready to depart. They are likely to think about the session in the time they have before the next session so it is important to be as clear on the reflections as possible.

As I said at the start of this blog, this is how I like to work when I start working as a facilitator. What is also important is that this process and experience is different with each new group.


Dysfunctional Collaboration – When Lesson Study collaboration needs help!

Collaboration is great – except when it is not!

It is very easy to tell people that we need to collaborate, but for some the idea of working together will evoke terrible memories of group tasks where one person ending up doing all the work. Or where the arguments between the team members meant that little learning was achieved – apart from maybe a shared distaste for future group work.

It is therefore important to have a closer look at dysfunctional collaboration – through the context of Lesson Study. This is partly because, I think, unless you can recognise dysfunction, you can’t start to address it. I also think that dysfunction can look different in different contexts, and as I am unlikely to have experienced all of the types of dysfunction you might experience in a Lesson Study, this blog just hopes to provide some insight into dysfunction you may encounter.

I suppose a suitable spoiler at this point is: Simply putting someone into a team does not mean that their collaboration will be effective, efficient or kind. There are a lot more considerations that are important, and if you neglect them dysfunctional collaboration can occur and this could be quite damaging to any future collaboration you do.

What does dysfunction look like?

Dysfunction is when the Lesson Study team – within the participants – collaborates in a way that is more difficult, disruptive or unpleasant. When I recently framed dysfunction in Lesson Study (Mynott, 2019) I suggested it might look like this:

Extract from Lesson Study Outcome Framework (Mynott, 2019)

Under each heading of Time, Collaboration and Expertise you can see some of the qualities that might make a Lesson Study dysfunctional.

In the rest of the blog, I am going to focus on egos and their impact on collaboration.

Types of egos

There are always egos. Egos can be big and they can also be small. One of the things I have learnt about egos is that you cannot be entirely sure of the root of someone’s ego and what they ego might look in a Lesson Study context, until you start. This is because confidence can be bluster, and equally what might look like uncertainty could be masking detailed knowledge. What is important is that in a Lesson Study team, particularly as a facilitator, you need to be prepared for all types of ego.

A dominant ego might belong to someone who wants to consume the collaborative space. This is an individual who has a lot of words to say (these might be brilliant and inspiring words) but they are dominating the space and therefore they are not necessarily giving others space to explore their thinking and also giving themselves time to reflect on their own learning. This kind of dominant ego can be addressed through the facilitator or chair of a Lesson Study team ensuring that all members are heard in relatively equal amounts. Of course, that might mean at times asking this dominant talker to take a turn listening.

The uncertain ego. The individuals who appear uncertain can be very tricky in a Lesson Study dynamic. They are tricky because they might genuinely be uncertain, in which case they need time and encouragement, or they might be self-deprecating in order to appear a certain way to the rest of the team. The danger of spending time in a Lesson Study team building the confidence of these individuals is that the team might end up being dysfunctional because it has been drawn into affirming the egos of these uncertain individuals. Again, structure can help. If the facilitator gives specific tasks such as asking each individual to comment on the planned learning in the group, it deflects the focus of the collaboration away from the individual and back to the learning, meaning that the individual can find certainty in their thinking, even if it takes longer to feel it in themselves.

The ‘I’m right’ ego. Sometimes, learning can cause a significant amount of threat to an individual. This is often felt strongly if the belief challenged is something the individual feels passionately about or has worked hard on. At other times an individual might have more experience within a subject, topic or year group than other members of the group. This can lead to heated exchanges within a Lesson Study team. If this occurs it is important that the facilitator or chair returns to the protocols of the Lesson Study (see Dudley, 2014 or Stepanek et al, 2007 for more information on protocols). It is also important to remember that if a large amount of cognitive dissonance occurs for an individual, a break, might be a really good idea. This break might give an individual time to process and reflect on their learning, but also come to terms with what they now think, without taking their frustration out on the rest of the Lesson Study team.

It is also important to recognise that the ‘I’m right’ person could be correct, but can the rest of the group see this from their own reading, observing and notes. If not, it might be that reflection and revision of the learning so far are needed to help understand the differences of opinions within the group. The facilitator needs to help this understanding grow, and this might mean they need the break to re-plan and re-shape the discussion focus to revisit previous work in more detail, or draw out more evidence from the current work to support further discussion based on learning, so it does not become solely focused on opinions or preferences.

The ‘non-sharing’ ego. There are a few individuals who do not share freely in collaborative structures. There reasons are not necessarily linked to the above egos but are more culturally tied to the way the school system works. These individuals cannot see any benefit in making others better, because if they do, then they will have to be better themselves in order to continually be perceived as better than someone else. Therefore, in collaboration they might only provide lip-service to the process, and never discuss or share anything of depth. This kind of ego is very challenging, because essentially there is a real fear behind this ego, that in helping someone else be better they will be perceived as becoming worse. The fact that any teacher can feel like this is heart-breaking, because it is never a message that they would teach to a child. Yet, in a high-stakes accountability structure if you perceive yourself only through comparison this can be hard to change. This barrier can stop schools and individuals working together and a facilitator has to work hard to ensure that each participant is contributing. Again, the structure of how a session runs will need to make sure that everyone has both opportunity and space to contribute and that it is expected that everyone will bring their observations of the learning to the review meeting.

Reasons behind the egos

When someone is projecting fault or failings onto another, the team is not working together in collaboration. In that moment of challenge, it can be easy to blame the individuals, but actually, each challenging ego needs to be considered in their context, their history and within the dynamic of the Lesson Study team. Some of the contexts or reasons have been outlined below.

Lack of experience with observation

If teachers are only used to being observed in formal systems of accountability, they will think that observation is a critique of the teacher rather than a discussion of the learning. This is dangerous, because it means that the observers are only thinking about a person within the team, not the essence of the collaborative work. It can be all too easy to fall into a trap of criticism of an individual when actually it is important to remember that Lesson Study work is exploratory, and therefore unlikely to be perfect. Dudley (2014), Stepanek et al (2007) all suggest that it is important to ensure that the Lesson Study team understand that their collaboration is a joint endeavour and therefore when they talk about a lesson, they need to shift their pronoun usage to ‘We’ and ‘Our’. For example, it would be: Our lesson did not quite go the way we planned it! The dominant and uncertain egos are likely to be influenced by the previous experience of the observation system and it might mean that prior to the Lesson Study cycle starting its research lessons, time needs to be taken to practice and build observation skills.

Not being prepared to work collaboratively

Secondly, if teachers have not been sufficiently prepared to work together, they may be threatened or anxious about sharing their thinking or work. Teachers are too often working on their own and this means that they have to work to traverse their own individualism to work with others. This is where the old issue with group tasks also plays a part, because while the value of learning from others will not be denied, it is often more straightforward to just get on with the task at hand.

Not usually working with others can also make collaboration scary as the teachers might be uncertain about their own practice. Not feeling safe to fail, is a good way of describing this, and while we spend a lot of time ensuring that pupils feel that they could and should learn from their mistakes, this philosophy is often denied to teachers. And sometimes as teachers we can be our own worse enemies. I will always recall a primary languages, non-specialist, teacher posting a resource online (a good few years ago now) that was then ripped apart by language teacher colleagues, as it was deemed imperfect. That is an example of dysfunctional behaviour, because in all likelihood, that person hasn’t posted another resource again, and probably felt less confident teaching languages. If you are worried that is how you will be treated with your own teaching work then it can make you reticent to try.

This is even more the case if you have already worked hard to develop something in your own practice, but in the collaboration proposed you are being asked to freely share it and allow it to be critiqued. You might need to have sufficient time to explore this in the collaboration, or if an individual is taken into a team because of their knowledge, should they be a team member or are they a knowledgeable other? Whatever is decided it is important that the collaboration is clear and explicit from the beginning: the collaboration needs a purpose.

The purpose will focus the work, the learning and the whole project. The stronger and clearer the purpose the easier it is to navigate different egos. What are you developing? What do you need to find out? If the purpose of the Lesson Study is clear then using protocols like those offered by Dudley’s (2014) Handbook are going to support the discussion away from individuals and towards joint exploration.

Providing Structures

Creating a safe space is vital. This stems initially from the protocols set at the beginning of any Lesson Study work. I have started writing this up on a piece of large paper, with each individual team taking ownership of the precise working of their protocols so they become the governing rules of the individual Lesson Study team. Being on a poster, means they are easy to refer back to and whenever there is a need to address an aspect of dysfunction within the collaboration, reference to the protocols is then visual, simple but also understandable by all members of the team. In establishing your team’s protocols, you set out the basic expectations of how the team will interact, and this in turn helps create a safer space to work in, fail in, and to exchange thoughts that are still forming.

Using a facilitator or a chairperson. I am sure in some Lesson Study teams it is possible for the team themselves to facilitate the whole process, but I find it increasingly useful to use a facilitator in the meetings to help guide the discussion, to keep time and to help everyone have a section of space. How the facilitator can work effectively will be the subject of another blog, but as I have written this blog, I have shown how the facilitator can counter any aspects of dysfunctional egos.

Maintaining purpose. It is really important to maintain the purpose and focus of a Lesson Study cycle. Revisiting your question regularly, summarising what you know and what you have learnt at the end of each session and starting the next session with this summary is a good why to keep focused. I like to use the question: What has been in your minds this week linked to the Lesson Study work? It is a good way to bring everyone back to the learning from a previous session, but also see what reflection has taken place outside of the Lesson Study structure. There is always something, someone has read something, someone has tried out an idea, and this question allows it to be valued, drawn into the cycle and then if useful integrated into the shared work.


Dudley, P. (2014). Lesson Study: A handbook, Cambridge, Lesson Study UK (LSUK) http://lessonstudy.co.uk/lesson-study-a-handbook/

Mynott, J. (2019). ‘Lesson Study Outcomes: a theoretical model’, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-08-2018-0057

Stepanek, J., Appel, G., Leong, M., Mangan, M. & Mitchell, M. (2007). Leading Lesson Study: A practical guide for teachers and facilitators, Corwin Oaks Press, California.


“Obsessed” is a state that people use to describe a person who is fixated or focused on something that means they cannot see other possibilities. It has a somewhat negative connotation. Yet, sometimes being obsessed with something academically, can lead to deeper knowledge and understanding.

As the parent of a child who has many obsessions, currently very much around ‘Steven Universe’ and ‘Minecraft’, I have recently encountered some cognitive dissonance about how I feel myself about obsessions. On the one hand, I feel that being completely focused on one thing is not always good for my son, yet, on the other, I am sitting here late at time writing a blog post about my own obsession: learning and how it happens. So, am I really in a position to say to someone, that they shouldn’t explore their obsession further, when I am free to explore mine?

Maybe passion is a better word than obsession. I am passionate about understanding learning in more detail. I just want to know more about how it links to teaching, how it can be nurtured and developed. Yet, I am sure my obsession wasn’t always this. This got me thinking about my own childhood, and made me return to my own obsessions when growing up.

Two really spring to mind.

The first was drawing houses. I loved drawing different houses, and designing them. I liked to try to make them symmetrical, or have different features. I drew pages, and eventually books full of houses. If you look at my doodles now, every so often, I still draw a house, so my obsession with them has not gone away. I think it diminished when I realised, I would need a lot of money to build any of these houses, and as such I drew them less.

My second obsession was languages. I loved and still love them. I am currently learning Spanish, and I cannot think of a time since my childhood, when I haven’t been learning a language, exploring one I know further or teaching a language to someone else. I have picked some up and put them down again. My attempt to learn Finnish was short-lived. My Russian will probably only help me if I am lost on the Moscow metro and my study of medieval languages will be very useful only when I encounter a Viking or Old English-speaking ghost. Yet, I loved learning them, getting them wrong, being understood and developing them. My French and German have always led the way and I am enjoying further my French again at the moment alongside my study of Spanish.

I did not however grow up to be a translator or an architect, which my obsessions in childhood suggested I might. There are of course many reasons for this, notably among them is that I always wanted to be a teacher, but also, languages were in decline at my secondary school when I attended. I did French after school as an extra subject because two languages at GCSE were not supported within the timetabled day and the experience meant that I didn’t even opt for a language A ‘level when I came to choose them. In many senses, I guess, I felt I had to choose subjects which might be valued enough for me to secure a place at university. This lack of value is key. It brings me back to my son’s obsessions. He might not stick with his current ones; he might change them weekly. I am unlikely to know the ones that are really going to stick until they do. Yet, I don’t want him to be in his late thirties realising that he has a passion, and obsession with an aspect of his learning that was underdeveloped, a missed opportunity of sorts.

And if I don’t want that for my son, I couldn’t possibly want it for anyone else’s child either. Yet, I also recognise that after the Early Years, the curriculum gets busy in primary schools and obsessions tend to diminish in the eyes of the teacher as they become external to the classroom, a hobby after school.

In doing so, I wonder if we are actually missing something as educators. If an obsession is a form of intense and passionate learning, should we not be harnessing this power? Should we not be encouraging and nurturing this learning as if learning skills are transferable, then learning something in this intensity might make the act of learning itself more appealing to a child. If learning becomes something appealing, then all other subjects, and their journey through education, will also become easier.

Therefore, do we need to think differently about obsessions. Instead of trying to divert them into things that we think are more purposeful, maybe we need to recognise that being obsessed is someone showing that they are really interested in learning more about something. In doing so, we can show we value the obsessions.

Is Lesson Study for the Elite? – A Danish provocation

The initial provocation was provided by a team of Danish researchers, led by Klaus Rasmussen and Camilla Hellsten Østergaard, who were working with Lesson Study in different roles (University researcher level, school-teacher/ leader and pre-teacher level). It was an incredibly interesting discussion and it has led me to reflect more on the context Lesson Study finds itself in in England.

So, I have been thinking about this provocation since it was put to me at the World Association of Lesson Study (WALS) conference (September, 2019: Amsterdam): Is Lesson Study for the Elite? And I while I write this, I am still thinking about it.

My instant response was no, of course not. Lesson Study is about collaboration and teacher learning. A process that develops and honours teachers’ skills, builds their craft and deepens their professional knowledge.

Yet, when I look around at the system in England, it is clear that not everyone is ready, prepared, eager or willing to do Lesson Study. There are lots of reasons for this, but I can’t help thinking that it is linked to a structural, cultural challenge that might be difficult to surpass.

This problem is likely to be linked to competition. Education is like a form of competitive sport in England. Schools are playing in a league and they are in competition with each other. Ratings of Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate label the different leagues of school, with the upper tiers of Good and Outstanding being freer to make decisions about how they work as schools, while the schools in the lower tiers are consumed by trying to escape the rating category they have. Performance (narrowly measured) decides the position within the league (although the new inspection framework (Ofsted, 2019) potentially will widen the scope of this – at least I hope it does). So, for some schools the challenges of the everyday mean that it can be difficult to take a risk on working collaboratively to improve. Even if it would be helpful.

Some could argue that competition breeds innovation. Yet, are we really saying that children in different schools have different values: Are some children worth more than others? I don’t believe that this is true. However, our education system generates barriers to collaboration (which essentially mean that not all opportunities are equal) because if one school helps another and then doesn’t perform as well in their end of key stage tests, they are then at risk of moving down in the rating leagues. This can mean that schools who are doing well, who might be engaging in collaboration (through Lesson Study for example) or have things they can share, are hesitant to share because ultimately making another school better means your own school has to do better as well to remain safe within the rating leagues. Of course, some share regardless, but sharing and collaborating is not yet the norm. This means that some schools have great ideas, structures and practice, but these schools might have neighbours who do not have the same. Inequity is then rife throughout the education system. It is essentially this inequality that means it is the elite (in this case Good or Outstanding schools) that have the luxury of trying out things like Lesson Study. Schools in other categories can do it, and it can work, but it takes brave and resilient leaders to make that decision.

If we look more closely at Lesson Study and place it within the setting of inequality and lack of opportunity, it is possible to see that Lesson Study will find it harder to grow in schools which have not got an established culture of development. Lesson Study grows in schools that can facilitate collaboration, have time to think and the space to develop. Schools under pressure to improve their rating might find this harder. Staff might be too busy, resources might be stretched and priorities will be short term rather than planning for longer term improvement. Leaders themselves might also be mobile (choosing to do intervention work and then move to a new school after a short period of time), meaning that the long-term vision for the school might not be able to rely on collaborative development that takes time to build.

Where will Lesson Study grow more easily? In schools that have systems and cultures that enable it. When the school’s culture is not ready, Lesson Study will be an add-on, become dysfunctional or just stop happening. So, in many senses Lesson Study will continue in places already more developed and ready for learning, the ones often high on the league tables; places with the space and time to think collaboratively. While these places might not label themselves the elite, they are at least ahead of the field.

So, what does this mean to my thinking about the response to the initial provocation? Is Lesson Study only for the elite?

I want to say no. I want to say Lesson Study should be for everyone. I work hard to make the Lesson Study Network events I run, open access, with no paywalls on my resources or the training I offer through the network. But the network is small (growing, but new) and unless there is a concerted effort to break down the walls between schools and openly encourage inter-school collaboration it is unlikely that Lesson Study will become for everyone (certainly in the short term). I think this is partly due to the fact that Lesson Study has to initially fight an engrained culture within education. To fight this is needs to be introduced well, utilising expertise on how it works, and planning to use facilitation and knowledgeable others (in Lesson Study and subjects) to help build knowledge. With the right support and encouragement, Lesson Study and collaboration can be for everyone. Where this can happen and a school is secure in its position within the leagues, Lesson Study can take on and grow.

Yet, as it stands Lesson Study thrives in some schools, some local areas (where there is a wider network of support) but in as many schools as it thrives it happens, diminishes and disappears. Where it is sustained there is likely to be structures that give time, promote expertise and enable collaboration. The leaders are likely to be involved and value Lesson Study as a form of professional development. These schools might not only be Good or Outstanding schools, but it is likely to be easier to maintain and build Lesson Study in schools that are not in a period of scrutiny or feel pressured to be accountable for performance. Maybe the schools Lesson Study takes in are not elite, but rather they are secure/ supported (both in league position, leadership and from externals like regional authorities) or brave and optimistic of a better, more collaborative way of development that is positioned away from accountability as a performance measure.

So, while it is sad to say, maybe Lesson Study is not yet accessible for everyone. It is available for the secure, supported or the brave, so in a way the elite. Although, I still do not like the term elite. To make it for all, we have to transcend inequality and fight our current educational culture, to ensure that collaboration is aimed at the improvement of all schools, not against each other but together. A valuable cause, but a big one.


Kindness: a leadership story

I recently attended #CollectivEd19; a conference which aimed to provide a space for knowledge exchange. It certainly delivered this. While at the conference I joined a round table discussion hosted by @Vivgrant and it is a thread of this discussion that provided the impetus for this blog. @Vivgrant provided stimulus that spoke about the stories leaders tell themselves and how they shape their leadership. I suppose this is one of my stories; possibly the most significant one.

In the summer of 2012 while the whole country geared up to the London Olympics, I felt absolutely exhausted. It was the end of my second year of headship and everyone assumed I was tired from work, and that the summer off from school would make me feel better. Only, after the summer I didn’t really feel any better. I was losing weight and by Christmas 2012 I was barely keeping a single bowl of cereal down each day. I couldn’t walk up stairs without resting. I knew I was seriously ill, but had no idea what was wrong with me. A biopsy at the start of the Christmas Holidays confirmed that I had cancer: stage 4 Lymphoma. I would need an intensive 6-month course of chemotherapy.
And that is how this story starts.

I am quite a stubborn person. And my initial reaction to cancer was that I would be stubborn and carry on as normally as possible throughout my treatment. I think this was partly because I knew that my work would be a good distraction from the side-effects of the treatment.

I also knew that cancer was something scary to many people, and I wanted the community of my school to know that cancer happens and that fear didn’t necessarily have to be part of the process. So, I prepared and planned how I would tell everyone. I wrote to the parents and I told the staff, letting them all know that I would tell the children in an assembly the following week. I was determined that my assembly would focus on being informative but also helping them be aware of what might happen to me throughout my treatment.

All was quiet for a few days. The assembly went well. The children decided if I lost my hair a bandana and a hat would be a good look for me. I have never been able to pull either off so I think it was very fortunate I did not lose my hair!

After a few days I started treatment. Those of you reading who have had chemotherapy will know that the first time you have it, there is a strange sensation inside you, which feels like your soul has left you. It is not painful, but echoey and empty like a mist inside your whole body. But it was whole experiencing this very strange feeling that I noticed that the whole community around my school was demonstrating their kindness.

A colleague drove me home after my first treatment and sat with me until I felt less like my soul was absent, and different members of my team would drop me off at the hospital each time I went in for my chemotherapy. A simple kindness, that was so helpful.

Everything tasted strange after chemotherapy and the community around me was prepared for this. I got given liquorice tea and goji berries. The mother of one of my teachers made me chocolate chip cupcakes each week and everyone was supportive on the days I looked vaguely purple. People accepted that I would need to stand during meetings as at times I was so uncomfortable sitting. There were so many small kindnesses given to me freely throughout my treatment, many of which at the time I am sure I was not fully aware of.

Yet, afterwards, I don’t think about how hard having cancer was, I think about the kindness that was shown to me. I think about how all of the community supported me and looked after me when I really needed them and I realise that this is how everyone should be all the time.

Kindness is one of those strange qualities that only shows itself when it is really needed. There are probably some people who interact with me who do not see me as particularly kind. I hope that if they ever need my kindness, they will find out that, that is simply not the case. I also hope that those colleagues, parents, children and friends who have seen the kindness aspect of my leadership got enough from me.

This is because kindness is not usually found in a training manual. In fact, sometime kindness is misrepresented as weakness. I know that in fact the opposite is true. It can be incredibly difficult to be kind to someone, as it means you have to consider them before yourself. As a leader, as a headteacher, I think kindness underpins all my thinking.

I asked my deputy head to read this blog before publishing it, and she said that when she had applied for the job she had emailed with my previous deputy about the position and my previous deputy had told her that I would always expect a mixture of kindness, resilience and high expectations. I hope this is a good summary of my leadership.

Yet, this story is about telling leadership stories with a different lens. I hope I wasn’t unkind prior to my cancer treatment, but I certainly know that once I experienced the kindness of a community rallying around me when I really needed them to, it became very clear that once I was better, a duty I would have would be to replicate, and build on the kindness given to me, so I could in turn help others when they need it.

Kindness is a gift. And while sometimes there is a niggle that you might be being taken advantage of, isn’t it likely to be better to ensure that someone who genuinely needs your kindness gets it. Ultimately, you are a measure of your own actions and stories. I know that if I am unlucky enough to get seriously ill again, or need people to extend me kindness for another reason, I would want people to be kind to me. Therefore, I need to exemplify and lead kindly, so that everyone who needs me to be kind, for whatever reason receives the kindness they need.

Managing Knowledge

Sometimes you read something that really transforms your thinking. This happened for me recently, when I read Cheng (2019) Successful Transposition of Lesson Study. This book interested me because of its link to Lesson Study, but my take away from it was less to do with Lesson Study and more to do with how as a head teacher I can think about the knowledge within my school.

Is your Spanish teaching, as good as your Maths? Is your Music as strong as your knowledge of grammar and spelling patterns? Maybe not and that is only subject knowledge! On top of the subjects we have pedagogical knowledge and context knowledge. So, there is a lot to know and very little time to acquire it.

Primary schools are complex places and primary teachers need a great deal of knowledge to effectively do their jobs. Yet, is the knowledge primary school teachers need and would relish presented in a format that is accessible to them? Ultimately, the primary school teacher is a generalist teacher but we have to have detailed knowledge of progression and learning in a vast number of subjects and year groups often beyond any subject specialisms we might have had in our own education.

This is where knowledge management comes in and why Cheng’s book resonated with me. I hadn’t really considered the need to manage the knowledge that was generated in the school. I felt that as it was contained within people it would be disseminated effectively. But in doing so, some things have become tacit, some lost and others diminished. So, Cheng’s book made me think about how I could capture knowledge so that it became like a reference library of bite sized information – with further reading suggestions to support professional learning. After discussion with my deputy we decided to try out knowledge summaries (Mohapatra, Agrawal & Satpathy, 2016). These would be a document of no more than 2 pages of A4 that talked about the knowledge we had in school about a specific theme. This would then provide a reference point that could be shared, talked about and updated as time goes on, but would always remain an explicit point of knowledge. This would safeguard against losing knowledge in staff changes, tacit embedment or in diminishing.

It has only been two weeks and we have only created a few summaries, but already these are having an interesting impact on the school. I wrote one on the use of pairs linked to some oracy research I am doing and some observations of the practice I have seen in my own Year 6 class and through the Lesson Study I am involved in. I underpinned this with refence to Gaunt & Stott (2019) and used their book to suggest further reading. In the knowledge summary, I talked about how pupils might be positioned to sit and how this could be used to structure paired talk. Walking through the school last week – touring a new family round – I could see that some of the classrooms have changed their classroom layouts.

Not everything was positive though. A staff member tried out the paired work, and identified that I had missed a key element out in my summary about ensuring that the pupils faced each other (moved their bodies) when doing paired work. So, my knowledge summary needed an edit. And due to that it was improved and added to, making it a more effective summary.

I am excited about developing this library of knowledge summaries over time that can provide us with a base to share and underpin the andragogy in our school for the future. Something that appeals to me is linked to an outcome of Lesson Study, which is when you learn something that is not readily usable – yet. I talk about putting these pieces of learning on a metaphorical shelf. The knowledge summary offers a way of making this knowledge then accessible when it is useful. So, I will be encouraging Lesson Study teams to capture their learning into knowledge summaries at the end of their cycles as a method of helping them further clarify and define their learning. If it can be used straight away it can be used like the pairs summary. If it something for the metaphorical shelf it will be in an accessible form ready to use when we are ready it for it.


Cheng, E. (2019). Successful Transposition of Lesson Study: A knowledge management perspective, Springer, Singapore.

Gaunt, A. & Stott, A. (2019). Transform Teaching and Learning Through Talk; The Oracy Imperative, Rowman & Littlefield, London

Mohapatra, S., Agrawal, A. & Satpathy, A. (2016). ‘Designing Knowledge Management Strategy’ in Designing Knowledge Management-Enabled Business Strategies, DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-33894.1-5

Finding a question: Learning from Leading Lesson Study: Part 2

I am a big fan of questions. I like them a lot and I tend to find them readily available to me when I am thinking. Yet, in Lesson Study, the main question – the research question – that will focus the enquiry is often elusive.

I have been thinking about why it can be so difficult to find the real focus of enquiry when starting Lesson Study and I think it is a combination of multiple factors.

Firstly, the lack of a question probably means we are not yet ready for a full research cycle. Today, when I meet with one of the Lesson Study teams exploring Oracy, our question started to formulate. Yet, this was only possible because we have spent nearly 5 months engaged in extended preparation, including reading about Oracy, creating knowledge summaries of what we know and of talking about Oracy. We have been meeting weekly this half term, and have undertaken two jointly planned lessons. In doing so we have been refining and enquiring into our interests and today our focus materialised. I think this probably means we are ready to start the preparations for our Lesson Study cycle lessons and we are planning two sets, to explore how we can develop summarisers in our Oracy work. It is something that is interesting to the group and will benefit the rest of the school once we share our work after our Lesson Study.

Secondly, when Lesson Study teams are new, they are learning about Lesson Study while doing Lesson Study. As such developing a question can be part of this development journey. Yes, I suppose it would be possible to frame this more and structure a Lesson Study where it is more lead, and a research question is given. However, I think that might mean that the participants will not learn how to narrow their enquiry down themselves if a question is given to them, and focusing their thinking so they are actively engaged in their learning is, for me, a massive benefit of Lesson Study. It is also important that the whole team is interested in the research question. If someone becomes disinterested in the enquiry it might affect how the Lesson Study team functions (it might become dysfunctional or avoidant). It could also mean that the power dynamic within the team could shift, and it might be a Lesson Study done to participants rather than a real collaborative enterprise.

Thirdly, extended preparation is really fantastic learning for participants involved in Lesson Study. There is so much learning already from each of the Lesson Study teams this year, none of which are yet in their research lesson cycles. Yet, we have been able to talk in depth about our reading, our thinking and test out ideas we now understand in more detail. We share this on the journey, usually through talking with others, and we can observe small changes in our neighbouring classrooms from the things we have talked about. So, because we are already learning a lot there is no need to rush to a research question.

Lesson Study takes time – a lot of time. If you are involved in Lesson Study work, but struggling to find a question, don’t worry, the question will reveal itself when you have started to really engage with your professional learning. It takes a good team sharing their professional learning – the beauty of collaboration in Lesson Study. In fact, once you realise you are learning a lot, that is when your question is likely to reveal itself – just like ours did today.

Learning from Leading Lesson Study: Part 1

When I think about who has learnt most from the Lesson Study work in my school, I think I have to say that it is probably me. I have learnt so many different things from my research with and work in Lesson Study. This blog is about how I have learnt to work more effectively with Lesson Study teams.

Stepanek et al. (2007) place emphasis on the need for the person who teaches the research lesson to speak first in the post-lesson review. Which in practice is what we aspire to do in our reviews in school. However, last year when I listened to Anne Mette Færøyvik Karlsen’s (University of Stavanger, Norway) detailed presentation (at WALS 2018 Conference in Beijing) of using a noticing structure to explore Lesson Study reviews, I was struck by her observation that the teaching teacher notices less. As part of my work building Lesson Study teams, I often volunteer to teach the first research lesson, it helps teams feel at ease and means they get to observe more. But, nagging in the back of my mind is the question: if I am doing this, am I noticing less? The answer is probably. But I have also been working on a solution to that, which is trying to listen more. In reviews, and especially in the planning stages. I am trying to hear what other participants are saying and build on this with my comments if I need to make them. For someone who really likes to talk this is a challenging piece of learning, and I still have more work to do in this area.

Pausing a Lesson Study cycle is another key thing I have learnt to do. Sometimes, there is a sense of that the cycle needs to continue to complete it, so the Lesson Study is done. I think this is less and less the case for me. Today, I enjoyed a great paused Lesson Study conversation with one of the teams I am working with. We decided a week ago that after our last lesson review that we didn’t have sufficient time to talk about what we wanted to do this week and we felt that it would be good to take the time we had planned for our second lesson as an extended conversation about our next lesson. It was a wonderful decision as we had all been mulling our thoughts over, throughout the week and reading and rereading some key research, which meant that our meeting today was really purposeful and we are no longer on pause, but ready to pursue our second research lesson next week. Pausing, Lesson Study mid-cycle is something I really recommend if you need more time to think.

Ensuring that my thinking is obvious to the rest of the group is another aspect that I have found to be really useful in Lesson Study. Dudley’s (2014) handbook sets out the protocols of Lesson Study reviews. One of these is related to that there are no silly suggestions. Which is good because I am sure I have made lots of these contribution in every cycle. Yet, I think this also demonstrates my ongoing thinking that is happening as the planning, observations and reviews occur. I would go as far to say that it is important to show that you are thinking in a Lesson Study. That you can take comfortable silences to reflect and think about what has been said or noticed. That you can hear other participant’s suggestions and link them to your own thinking. Using phrases like I think, or I am starting to think also help encourage more emerging thinking into each team and thinking is key to accessing the potential learning Lesson Study has to offer.

Of course, after thinking comes the wonderful opportunity to be able to change your mind about something. I quite like being allowed to change my mind – often being a leader people can expect you to decide something and just stick to that course. Being comfortable with changing your mind and showing that you are changing your mind is therefore really important. Afterall, learning is about acquiring new knowledge or altering your thinking about knowledge you already have. Seeing things differently and working in collaboration will mean that you need to change your mind. Pella (2011) and Dudley (2013) recognise this as being key moments in Lesson Study participant learning. For me, showing that I am happy to adapt my thinking and therefore display my learning has been a powerful tool for helping other participants do the same thing.

So, if you are leading Lesson Study in your school. What have you learnt? And how are you using that learning to further Lesson Study?


Dudley, P. (2013). ‘Teacher Learning in Lesson Study: What interaction-level discourse analysis revealed about how teachers utilised imagination, tacit knowledge of teaching and fresh evidence of pupils learning, to develop practice knowledge and so enhances their pupils’ learning’, in Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 34. pp. 107-121.

Dudley, P. (2014). Lesson Study: A handbook, Cambridge, Lesson Study UK (LSUK) http://lessonstudy.co.uk/lesson-study-a-handbook/

Pella, S. (2011). ‘A Situative Perspective on Developing Writing Pedagogy in a Teacher Professional Learning Community’ in Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter, 2011. pp. 107-125.

Stepanek, J., Appel, G., Leong, M., Mangan, M. & Mitchell, M. (2007). Leading Lesson Study: A practical guide for teachers and facilitators, Corwin Oaks Press, California.

Time – A challenge and a gift in Lesson Study

Time is often a problem in Lesson Study work; indeed, I have recently written an article where I suggest time as a limiting factor for potential learning in Lesson Study (Mynott, 2019). Time to read, time to research, time to think, time to do and time to reflect are all common challenges for Lesson Study cycles and their participants. Yes, time is definitely a challenge, which is unlikely to go away, but talking solely about its challenges negates the fact that time in Lesson Study is also a gift.

In a busy school, it can be easy to forget that discussions with your colleagues are important. Lesson Study gives you the gift of collaborative time with your colleagues. Just this week, I have spent two of my afternoons looking at very different Lesson Study themes: Notebooks in Science and Oracy in History. I have taught a research lesson in Year 5 and collaboratively planned another research lesson for next week in Year 2. On both occasions I have been working intensely with two teachers from my teaching team. Our discussions have been about learning, ours and the children’s but crucially these have been sustained, long conversations which have given us a professional space together. In both Lesson Study conversations, I have come away with questions, thoughts and ideas that I want to explore further. Therefore, engaging with Lesson Study has gifted me more than just the focused conversation, it has also given me fuel to my own professional curiosity which I will continue to explore with my own teaching in the next few weeks.

If you have heard me talk about learning from Lesson Study, you will know that I talk about how you can put some learning on a mental shelf; to be returned to at a later date. Sometimes the things on my shelf can be there for quite some time. Our Oracy Lesson Study has seen me dusting off lots of things I have placed on my mental shelf as I suddenly have a space, a shared discursive space, in which I can use them. In fact, the meaning-making I am making between Gaunt and Stott (2019), and my previous learning around Oracy has really encouraged me to further develop this in my practice. I have had the gift of time, time within my very busy week to think about my learning and link it up. As a result, I am already applying my newly un-shelved learning to my own practice with how I use pairs in my Year 6 class.

Thirdly, Lesson Study gifts you time to learn about your craft, from others. I really enjoy the dissonance Lesson Study allows within a team. I have been thinking a lot about how even if you try to be reflective on your own, it is hard to see what you are missing. Today, I enjoyed a really good discussion about how we might use an inference grid to support listening to a partner. The team shaped the way we could ask questions and I feel that it has refined my thinking about how I might use a summariser in my own paired work. I am really looking forward to our research lesson next week to see if our plans really do support listening between pairs.

So, while you can get bogged down in the limitations of time it is important to remember that time is a gift. If you focus on the gift the time (albeit precious) that you have given to Lesson Study, I hope that you will see that it has been a considerable gift.

Gaunt, A. & Stott, A. (2019). Transform Teaching and Learning Through Talk; The Oracy Imperative, Rowman & Littlefield, London.

Mynott, J. (2019). ‘Lesson Study Outcomes: a theoretical model’, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-08-2018-0057

Before Bansho – What does my board and board-planning look like?

Bansho is the Japanese pedagogical practice of board writing (Tan, Fukaya & Nozaki, 2018). I have really enjoyed reading Tan et al. (2018) and their writing on bansho (Japanese board writing) and bansho keikaku (Japanese board-writing planning). While, I am personally captivated by the skill and the detail of this approach, this blog is not about bansho. It is instead an initial exploration of what my own version of board planning looks like.

Why consider my own practice? Well, the dilemma when reading about practice from another country is that you can get caught up in the success, you can read about, without paying enough attention to what is already present in your own practice. This blog is about trying to pay attention to my current practice, inspired by my reading on bansho.

Vocabulary Board Planning
I am going to specifically look at board-planning for vocabulary through a sequence of learning for English. This area of focus was sparked from a WordAware (http://thinkingtalking.co.uk/word-aware/) training course where I particularly reflected on the need to activise – use vocabulary I was teaching more. This is an area I have been specifically working on this academic year and is something I feel is improving because of the way I think about the creation of my boards.

As many of my boards are prepared electronically, my board planning is often linked to work that will be created and placed for reference elsewhere in my classroom. With vocabulary the boards are planned for two locations, the first being the interactive white board and the second being the English working wall in my classroom. This working wall is an entire wall of whiteboards.

In a sequence or unit of English I will have two or three weeks of lesson time (about 10 – 15 hours). Vocabulary usually starts off the learning of the unit as the first session of the sequence, but it is then taught, practiced, recalled and rehearsed throughout the remaining sessions, in varying amounts of time (sometimes a quick recall starter, sometimes as a component needed to practice something within the main lesson tasks). As such vocabulary board planning is both integrated and structures the entire English teaching sequence.

The example I will use to show my thinking is my most recent attempt at board-planning for vocabulary. The unit is considering the resolutions to narrative and uses an extract from J.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ as its starting stimulus.

Vocabulary Session 1: Shared reading and identification of the key vocabulary words and the initial reasons I selected these key words:

• Hobbit, (key for comprehension)
• porthole, (useful, variation for effect)
• comfort, (useful, multiple synonyms)
• perfectly, (useful, multiple synonyms)
• passage, (useful, synonyms and variation for effect)
• deep-set, (specific, good for effect and characterisation)
• respectable, (useful, multiple synonyms)
• unexpected, (useful, good for effect)

These words would be presented to the children alongside the model text – which in this sequence is an extract taken from the beginning of ‘The Hobbit’. I used to ask them to underline the words they did not know but actually, these are the words I think are crucial to both understanding the text, but also for their work throughout the unit, so now I tell them these are the words we are going to be exploring. By pre-empting the words, I am then able to more effectively plan for how I want to use them in the first session and throughout the entire unit.

Our first task is to read the text after which I introduce my first board.

The first board is a list of these key words with a starter task which is to identify the meaning of the words (using dictionaries and thesauri) as well as using sentence context and previous learning about the specific words. This is a carefully considered exploration, as the number of words is small and the outcome to be produced is highly specific. For each word, the pupils will generate 2 or 3 definition sentences, produce a group of synonyms and think about how they might use these synonyms along the scale of meaning for this word, i.e. can they use them equally within their definition sentences or are the variations of meaning significant. This specific task generates a base upon which the rest of the vocabulary work can be built on. Essentially all that has been done by the end of this session is that the words have been introduced and pupils have clarified their meaning.

Slide 1

Slide 2 (2)

Once the words have been explored, each word is reviewed in a longer taught section of the lesson. Each word’s meaning is clarified, definitions are refined and synonyms adjusted (and in some cases rejected). The final result is vocabulary notes that then are placed on the board in my classroom where they will stay for the entire sequence and usually the following two English sequences, so that these words become further integrated into the pupils’ memories and their work.

Slide 3 (3)

What I am thinking about, when planning this first board, is which of the words are important, how will I then define them. This is where the text on the slide and the planning vary. I only place the essential information on the electronic slide, but for each word, I think through how the word could be defined (check it is in the classroom dictionaries) and think about the shades of meaning within the synonyms. A good check I use is can I think of 3 to 5 different synonyms for each word, before using a thesaurus. If I can, it means it is a useful word for us to use as the synonyms are in regular everyday usage and thus will be accessible and usable for future work. Planning the definitions that I will use in the final modelling is also important – these are going to be up on the wall for a while – as they need to link to the learning that is planned in the rest of the sequence. I need to make sure I define each of the different shades of meaning a word has. The example above ‘comfort’ has four distinct shades that I want to cover in this sequence. This means I need to plan for four definition sentences and for four groups of synonyms. Due to the nature of different words, it is sometimes important to readjust the focus on these words once I have sequenced out the rest of the work in English as a change to definition at this point will support a pupil in their writing in session 8.

I must stress that over the course of the year my usage of synonyms has become clearer. Now part of my thinking is that how the synonyms are set out around the word needs to directly link to the definitions being modelled. This is therefore sharing the shades of meaning each word and their synonyms have. To help me prepare and remember this I will draw the relevant number of lines from the word being focused on – as seen in the photo – this means that the synonyms are placed in their broad definition groups which then will be rehearsed throughout the sequence. What I need to do more is think even more about the synonym placement as even within the shade groups there are synonyms that are closer to the mean of the original word and ones that are further away and placing them appropriately in the initial session will be important.

So, at the end of session 1 I have planned two boards, one electronic and one for the working wall (classroom display). But there was a lot of planning that happened behind these two boards, and so the boards are really only the tip of the iceberg for the work that they represent. It is therefore important to remember when you are working with other teachers that you try to explain the thinking behind your boards as much as possible because a board on its own is insufficient to tell you the professional thinking behind it. This is a strength I can see in Japanese Lesson Study, which shares this thinking. I still need to get much better at sharing my thinking, as even with this sequence of vocabulary, I do not think I have been successful in explaining how my boards were planned to my year group partners. Helping define how I shape my boards and sharing this knowledge is part of the reason for this blog.

The remainder of my boards for vocabulary are planned electronically.

Session 2: Focus words for this session are comfort and respectable. This board is designed to propose sentences with blanks for the children to fill with one of the two words. It includes three sentences and a quick warm up, reminding pupils, of these two words. This board is planned to start rehearsal of the vocabulary acquired in session 1. To facilitate this the words are fairly different so that their usage is clearer.

slide 4 (2)

Session 2 continued: The other words appear in the body of the work for this lesson. They are included deliberate in a re-writing task where pupils have the prompt of a different door and they need to rewrite the section about the hobbit hole door using the prompt of a new door. This is a good opportunity to develop and use synonyms around the words and see how the pupils can manipulate and use the vocabulary flexibly. The vocabulary here is shown in context, and will be repeated as part of the work, but my teaching objective here is to explore sentence construction within the model text. As such I aim to model the usage and repeat the vocabulary as much as possible, showing how they can be used.

Session 3: A definition matching board is planned. The focus words for this session re unexpected, perfectly and respectable, to rehearse these three words which are anticipated to be less well used in the session 2 rewriting task. The board is planned to enable pupils to sort the definitions they know first, and then use that to match all the words. When pupils are more familiar with vocabulary, I might put in an additional definition so they have to be clearer in their thinking. Sometimes I will also put the synonyms of a word up and focus on the shades of meaning. Passage would be a good choice for this type of work as the variations of the definitions of its synonyms lend themselves to distinct definitions (i.e. a long room from the front door to the main stair – hall/ a gap between the cliff faces led to the wizard’s door – passage).

As this board is designed to rehearse, I have chosen to keep it simpler. Later in the sequence, I might use more variations.

slide 5 (2)

Session 4: In these session pupils start to plan for writing about a variation on the door used in the Hobbit text. I will have my own, different door, and the children will have a choice of doors to describe. With my door, I will show pupils how I will select and use the vocabulary words to build my plan that will support my writing. Pupils will recall and use vocabulary in this session.

This board is designed to lead to thinking about word choices, within the sentence work we completed in session 2. By this session the pupils will have seen the vocabulary words and used them in different ways. The focus of vocabulary on this board is to show how it can be selected and edited. One of the things I will do in this session is to model how a synonym might work better in my sentence.

This session is another one where the electronic board meets my working wall, as while the prompt is on the electronic board, I will teach this lesson using paper and writing my own version up to join our vocabulary on our working wall. I think through what I want as an outcome, but this is not as detailed out as the definition work in session 1, and that is because I want to welcome any contributions from the group which might help develop all the writing further. As a less structured part it can be challenging to get this to precisely where it needs to be, but the inter-state talking around the construction of writing is important to articulate so pupils see how vocabulary is a vital part of a writing process.

There are more boards within the sequence of work that link to vocabulary. As the sequence progressed the recall required on the pupils increases. They are expected to give definitions and distinguish between word choices which are closer in meaning.

The board planning for vocabulary becomes more integrated, and ongoing assessment reviews the words which have become more established in work (in books and conversation) so that adjustments to vocabulary slides can be made to clarify and promote words which are not being used as frequently (or correctly). This means that while the entire sequence is planned prior to commencement, vocabulary work needs to be continuously adapted throughout the sequence.

This is an example of some board-planning that I do. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking through my boards, and lessons in this detail. Therefore, it is important that we talk about our boards, board-planning and our craft, so that we share what we do well with each other, to help further and refine our practice.

For me, I am going to continue to explore bansho. I do think it will help me think about how I design my board work more, but I also want to explore how you build your boards.

Tan, S., Fukaya, K. & Nozaki, S. (2018) “Development of bansho (board writing) analysis as a research method to improve observation and analysis of instruction in lesson study”, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 7 Issue: 3, pp.230-247, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-02-2018-0011

Tolkein, J. R. R (2012) The Hobbit Harperlee,