Reflection: The Pope’s ‘new commandments’ – how we can use them in schools


Having a read through the Pope’s speech to the Curia yesterday it struck me that these ‘commandments’ apply to schools & at the end of the year may give us a chance to reflect on our working behaviours.

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable.
“A Curia that doesn’t criticise itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”

Honest self reflection is the only way to move forwards. Do we all do this without egos getting in the way?

2) Working too hard.
It is the disease of those who, like Martha in the Gospel, “lose themselves in their work, inevitably neglecting what is better; sitting at Jesus’ feet.” The Pope said that Jesus called on his disciples to “rest a little”, because neglecting necessary rest brings anxiety and stress.

Working all hours and/or expecting others is inhumane. Do you send emails at midnight and expect a response?

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened.
“It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”

There is a fine balance between being professional in our behaviour and lacking humanity in our responses. If someone is sad, show you care. If you don’t care maybe it’s time you moved on or out.

4) Planning too much.
“Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.”

Too many initiatives cause chaos and we end up losing core values and aims. Keep it simple.

5) Working without co-ordination, like an orchestra that produces noise.
“When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.'”

Team work. United we stand, divided we fall.

6) Having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’
“We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

Don’t forget what we’re here for. Take time to reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If the answer doesn’t link to the students maybe it’s time to rethink.

7) Being rivals or boastful.
“When one’s appearance, the colour of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.”

Again, united we stand, divided we fall. One person won’t change much. A team will.

8) Suffering from ‘existential schizophrenia.’
“It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.”

Staying in an office all day? Saying one thing to one person and then doing another? Chastising someone for doing something and then doing it yourself? Keep it real.

9) Committing the ‘terrorism of gossip.’
“It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”

Not much to say. If you’ve something to say that’s important, day it sensitively and humanely to the person that needs the advice. If it doesn’t overall have an intended positive outcome, should you be saying it?

10) Glorifying one’s bosses.
“It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honour people who aren’t God.”

Maybe not such a common occurrence in education. My take on this is the opposite. Remember however much we may hate what people do they are still humans. They have feelings. Love the sinner, hate the sin. (I include Mr Gove in this.)

11) Being indifferent to others.
“When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”

Think carefully through the possible consequences of anything you do. Surely it isn’t your intention for someone to look bad?

12) Having a ‘funereal face.’
“In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.”

I’m sure we’ve all met the person who thinks that if they have a ‘funereal face’ this makes them important, serious, respectable. It’s your actions not your face expressions that gain respect.

13) Wanting more.
“When the apostle tries to fill an existential emptiness in his heart by accumulating material goods, not because he needs them but because he’ll feel more secure.”

We all want the best for students and teachers but remember some teachers operate in classrooms without windows or anything more than paper and pencil. Children still learn.

14) Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole.
“This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad – scandals – especially to our younger brothers.”

Are there ‘cliques’ within the staff? Within leadership? Do certain people find out things first? Showing favouritism or allegiance is dangerous and promotes distrust.

15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off.
“It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.”

Is your main aim to get your school on the front of the newspaper? Do you spend more time trying to create good PR than actually working with the students? Good work leads to natural good PR. A newspaper headline will never outweigh the views of the students, teachers and local community.

I’m not Catholic but I’m beginning to think that Pope Francis is going to be a force for good, not just for the Catholic Church. These insightful comments show he is clearly a highly intelligent, reflective leader; a role model for all.

Originally quoted by Josephine McKenna, The Telegraph


Conclusions from term 1 at my new school

  1. Ofsted is a COMPLETELY different experience if you have nothing to hide/fear.
  2. Children are different in every school and you cannot generalise in all aspects from one to another.
  3. SLT in a well run school are different to those in one that is not.
  4. Email does not have to be the only form of communication & a school can run just as/more efficiently by talking & notice boards/briefings/newsletters
  5. GCSEs are failing to challenge some children. I’m teaching top set year 9 A Level style/content and they’ll have a big drop if they choose GCSE.
  6. How I teach works. It’s not conventional. It fails all tick sheets. It’s natural. But students learn & like it.
  7. The ethos of a school is crucial and it comes from everyone in it.
  8. Giving power to middle leaders is the driving force of a school ( I knew this anyway but just hadn’t experienced it)
  9. Year 7 are so funny, heart warming and great to teach  (I haven’t taught them for a few years)
  10. I love teaching. I love marking. I love having my own classroom. I love my school.

oh yes and 11. Money isn’t everything. Happiness is.

Research in schools – being Devil’s advocate – #rEDlead


Professor Coe said we should be Devil’s advocate and ask questions in research. I feel this is my forte so this post will raise questions I have about research in schools following an excellent day at #rEDlead.

Who is the research for? I feel there was a dichotomy emerging between doing it to make a difference with our students in our own classes and then for ‘doing research’ that can then be used by others. Is there still a tension between real life classroom practice and academic research? I didn’t feel that many of the presentations looked at the potential impact on children and or the school themselves. Or is this a case of research needs to be done to see if research in schools has impact? Essentially, why should a teacher bother with academic, time-consuming research?

What makes research research? If I do it by myself and never share it, it is classed as research? Are there different types? Do we need a new taxonomy for educational research so we are all clear what we’re doing and what we’re reading?

Do we need set protocols and processes? This goes back to the idea of what constitutes research. If I forget my bibliography does that matter? How much should I read? Do we need to balance qualitative with quantitative?

Should research be differentiated? Could some colleagues be offered small scale mini projects; less reading, simple methodology, A4 write up? Whilst others who want to complete Masters level work have the opportunity? (see suggested taxonomy for Ed Research – what would go in the *?)

A possible structure for research?

A possible structure for research?



Should there be set formats for presentation? Does it matter if it is 3.5k words long or an A4 summary? Could there be a small/medium/large/extra-large option. Small being an A4 summary sheet and Extra large being the size & standard needed for MEd. Could the whole research be recorded by video without any written aspects?

What if we’re just wasting time? I try something in my class and when it goes wrong I analyse the possible causes, I adjust it or bit it. I don’t need to spend hours reading around it and then writing this up? Whilst it may be important to share, does the time spent making it audience ready outweigh the benefits of the process and findings?

How will school CPD change? INSET days? should it ALL be allocated to research? Should CPD budgets be being spent on texts?  I’ve been told that reading isn’t CPD, this is a problem!

Does everyone in the school have to do some research? We’ve all heard horror stories of everyone being made to complete research. Should it be optional? Should someone be ‘allowed’ to do research if there are serious weaknesses in their teaching that need addressing first, that research itself would take time away from addressing?  Should all types of staff including non-teaching be given the opportunity? What about LSAs? HLTAs?etc is there an opportunity for a qualification I.e the extended project level 3

How will we have access to published research? It’s been said many times. if we’re committed to this, should universities give schools log ins to their Athens service?

And how will teacher’s research be shared and/or published? Will professional full-time researchers be happy for the amateurs to join in? Should this link to the new College for Teaching? Should they host teacher research? But again, will they require a ‘Standard’?

Where is this time coming from? No-one really discussed this hot potato. I’ve heard people saying to introduce something new you must take something away. But this isn’t small. It’s big.

Should there be ‘core’ reading required? Again could it be the small/medium/large/extra-large idea where for example small projects have 2 core texts whilst extra-large have extensive reading?

What about the resistors? I can’t remember the term that was being used but what about those that don’t want to do research? How to manage them? Should we make them do it? What are the consequences?

Should research be linked to performance management? Again I didn’t hear this discussed much. Will some schools start linking these? How might that work? Is it reasonable to link them?

Should a link with a university be due to it being close and/or should be have a research directory of specialisms in education that teachers can then contact specialists linked to their area of research?Where could the central directory be held? How do I know who is available to work with? What if a HEI colleague is overwhelmed by requests? We have over 24,000 schools and approx 150 HEIs. Could it become unmanageable? Is it a model that can cope with exponential growth? Are there financial implications for the school and/or the HEIs?

How can teacher researchers make contact with those who are searching the same area? Should there be a research forum where you can give an outline of your work so others can contact you? Sharing ideas and even working in long distance pairs/groups could end up with more evidence.

Is this current movement just trying to get education on par with other professions? If we are trying to close a gap in educational research should overworked teachers be used in this way in the current situation?

Research Leads

Should research leads have a minimum set of skills and knowledge?
Should they have to have PhDs themselves?
What should they job role specification include?
Should they be on SLT?


I really enjoyed the day especially discussing ideas with other colleagues. Lots to think about. Thanks to Helene & Tom for organising and to those who presented and shared. I can’t make the next one as March is a busy month but it will be interesting more questions have answers by then.

Authentic leadership in schools: it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.


Or more precisely it’s ‘why’ you’re doing it.

I’ve been reflecting on what makes good leaders, good leaders. It interests me that there are some things that good leaders and not so good leaders do that are the same. But there is a subtle difference; why they’re doing it.

I will take a simple example, being on duty at lunchtime.

I have seen leaders on duty who interact with students, move them on, ask them to stop throwing food, ask them how they are etc and my feeling is that they are doing it to a) be part of the school, b) because everyone in the school has to do duties and they’re no different (empathy) and c) to be with the students (some leaders have little or no teaching so this is the time they can converse with the students).

However there are some leaders who do the same duty BUT there is a feeling that the reasons for doing it aren’t the same. There is one main reason that they are doing it; so they can say they do it. In staff briefings they can drop in ‘ whilst I was on duty yesterday…’ Or ‘ when I was talking to Billy yesterday whilst on duty….’. Or maybe even to beat others with it ‘if I can do duty (and I’m busier than you) then so can you’.

I don’t know what it is but teachers can seem to smell out the motives of some leaders. You cannot ‘fake’ your intentions or your feelings. And to me that’s what makes an authentic leader; they do it because they want to, because it matters beyond their own gain, because they’re genuine.

And that’s what gets results.

The flawed system of promotion in education


I’ve never understood why, when people that are good teachers are promoted, they spend less time in the classroom.

Why is it when you have a good teacher, people seem to assume that they want to be promoted to a ‘higher’ position? What if you just want to teach? Get better at teaching? Have direct classroom impact with students? What sort of career is that?

Don’t assume that all teachers want to move ‘up’ and ‘out’ of the classroom.

I’m mourning the loss of the AST role. It was perfect for people like me. Good in the classroom. Wanting to stay in the classroom. Wanting to share, coach and support those with their teaching. Trying out new ideas. Working strategically with SLT. Working with students for most of the day. For me, the students are the best part of the day. They’re funny, resilient, interesting. They challenge me but in a non-challenging way. They want me to care. They want to learn. I want to teach them, not sit in meetings.

So why is it, in education the further you climb the ladder the more your time can be spent moving away from this?

Yes I know that senior leadership is about significant impact on the students and many leaders spend a lot of time with students but why are senior leaders given more duties that focus less and less on our core business of teaching and learning? (Organising buses, sorting cover, being ‘on-call’, manning isolation etc) I understand that being more visible develops relationships with students but you’re paying people a lot of money to phone a bus company or a supply agency when their skills are not in making phone calls.

So,if you’re not really fully using the skills of an excellent classroom practioner in leadership the following  questions could be asked…

….Do you need to be a good teacher in education to be a good leader in education?

….Do good teachers make good leaders?

…Why do we promote good teachers to leadership when the skills from teaching are important but not enough to make a good leader? Are we confusing what is necessary with what is sufficient?

My next issue with leadership in schools is about training and support. Qualified teachers go through a year of training to teach. How long do you train to be a middle leader? A senior leader? Yes there are courses but you tend to ‘do’ these then get the job. Where’s the on the job CPD? How many schools have bespoke middle and senior leadership CPD? Mentoring? Coaching?

In teacher training you’re observed numerous times with feedback on how to improve. You then have an NQT year to embed the skills. Does this happen to middle and senior leaders?

And my final issue with the leadership system in education; Why is it that when you move into senior managemnt you’re often given  random subjects to teach when you’re being paid to focus on whole school strategic goals not planning lessons and learning content for something you’ve never taught before? Yes I know the whole ‘you should be able to teach anything’ mantra but why? Why would you do that to someone that you’ve actually employed because they were a good teacher of X and has the skills to do job Y and then make them teach Z. It just doesn’t make for the best kind of leadership, nor the best learning experience for the students.

So ASTs won’t be coming back  but should there be a role for teachers in schools to be paid and have the time to do the classroom based stuff that can also make a difference, but for those that also don’t want to be organising cover at the same time? Or am I just wishful thinking?