Making sense of the puzzle of practice

This blog is written by a Secondary PGCE Geography alumni whose career pathway has taken him from North East England to Sydney, Australia.  Here he reflects on his current work to support teachers to make sense of the puzzle in their practices and how this has its roots in his work on the Newcastle University PGCE programme.

A passion for thinking and learning was first fired in my PGCE course at Newcastle University, working alongside Rachel Lofthouse as my tutor. With an enhanced understanding of the seminal work of David Leat and the ‘Thinking through…’ team, I was able to use this as a springboard for the rest of my career. After seven years of teaching at Seaton Burn College, working in a variety of leadership roles but most prominently in the professional learning of teachers, a move to Australia led me to Masada College in St Ives, Sydney – an independent Jewish school for 3-18 year olds. My journey in leading and developing teacher capacity continued soon after joining Masada, primarily with a focus on embedding technologies. In 2015, I was invited to join the Executive team as Head of Teaching and Learning 7-12. My time in Australia has provided a myriad of opportunities and 2016 is no exception! It is shaping up to be another year full of professional learning. In July, I am extremely fortunate to have been accepted to be a participant at the Harvard University School of Education ‘Project Zero Classroom’ and ‘Future of Learning’ courses, both of which are central to our teaching and learning ethos at Masada. In addition, as the recipient of the NGS Superannuation ‘Dedicated to the Dedicated’ scholarship, I will visit USA schools who are pioneers in student centered classrooms. In connection with this study tour, working alongside ‘Flipped learning’ pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, I will facilitate professional learning at FlipCon in Adelaide and the Gold Coast.


This article represents a snapshot of my work alongside Carla Gagliano as my fellow Head of Teaching and Learning (ELC-6) and the many outstanding colleagues we have across the school.

Day One, Term One and as our new and established colleagues arrived back at Masada College, refreshed and looking forward to the year ahead, we began by asking them just one seemingly simple question: What do we want the children we teach to be like when they are adults? It’s a question that has been posed many times by our colleagues of the Project Zero team at Harvard University, to teachers around the world in developing cultures of thinking in schools.

The question creates a myriad of responses, but what is most interesting is the commonalities in what our teachers consider to be residuals of education. Not merely the ability to pass a test or reach the top Higher School Certificate grade, but imbue in our students a set of thinking dispositions (Ritchhart, 2002). Not thinking skills, but dispositions such open-mindedness, curiosity, scepticism, metacognition, compassion, inquisitiveness and truth-seeking amongst others. In this way, we see our students grow into the intellectual life around them. They learn to become thinkers, rather than do thinking.

At Masada College, through our Leading Learning educational package, we respect students’ talents, develop their creativity, their sense of responsibility, enrich their thinking and encourage everyone to strive to achieve their personal best. In our almost decade long journey in developing cultures of thinking, we have observed our teachers not ‘teaching thinking’ or relying on ‘thinking programs’ but instead leveraging cultural forces such as routines, language and interactions to create an environment where a collective and individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day-to-day experience for all.

370 - Sept 2015 publicity images - Photography by Mark Zworestine - MCZ12882

This ‘experience for all’ crucially includes our teachers. We embrace the notion that if we want a culture of thinking for our students, then we need a culture of thinking for our teachers. Guided by Project Zero consultant, Mark Church, all of our teachers conduct an action research project of their choosing to develop their understanding of a puzzle of practice to enhance student learning. At the heart of our culture of thinking are fortnightly focus groups, guided by an experienced facilitator. Working alongside peers to unpack their teaching puzzle, discuss possible next steps and share effective practice creates opportunities for rich discourse about teaching and learning.

As we have developed our culture and become a leading organisation using the approach, we are regularly asked to share our insights and learning with schools both nationally and internationally. Our highly acclaimed ‘Building Capability for Critical and Creative Thinking’ course is a three-part professional learning opportunity for us to share these insights and assist teachers and leaders from schools across New South Wales place critical and creative thinking at the heart of what happens in schools and classrooms. Throughout the course professional learners reflect on their practice and discover and embed this rich and transformative approach.

We strive for Masada graduates to display the sorts of attitudes toward thinking and learning we would most like to see in all young people – not closed-minded but open-minded, not bored but curious, neither gullible nor sweepingly negative but healthily sceptical, not satisfied with surface-level learning but digging deeper towards a genuine understanding. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that students truly become thinkers, not only to ensure examination success but to guarantee success beyond school and promote life-long learning.

Ryan Gill
Head of Teaching and Learning 7-12
Masada College, Sydney
Follow me on Twitter: @ryanagill


Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: the 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. Josey-Bass

Ritchhart, R. (2016). Making Thinking Visible: Using Thinking Routines in the Classroom. Presentation.


Let’s say you have the chance to design a University module on learning and teaching; which terms, pedagogues, theories would you include as part of the content? What would your ideal reading list look like? Would you focus on things like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, would you try to include some e-learning, or would you go as far as including anarcho pedagogy?

A few weeks ago, I attended a two-day Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) workshop that was facilitated by Sarah Chesney. Throughout the two day event, I tweeted my thoughts, notes, and opinions using #ilthenu



With interactions like these, Sarah and I started a little joke: #PedagogyBingo was born!





After the workshop finished, Sarah and I stayed in touch on twitter, continued our joke for a bit, but then got serious after the following interaction occurred:


After this, I e-mailed Sarah my thoughts on the project and she responded, quite enthusiastically, that we should make this happen.

Together, we developed an action plan to figure out how we could go about crowdsourcing #PedagogyBingo, and now we need your help!

The concept

The idea we had was to crowdsource key terms that should be included in a perfect learning and teaching module at university. This will happen publically on twitter where (hopefully) lots of people will get involved to share ideas, theories, and resources with us and the rest of the world using #PedagogyBingo.


This is not only a fun activity to do to get some insight into the traditional and novel pedagogies and theories out there, but it will hopefully also be beneficial to us and the larger education community on twitter. Some of the benefits of bringing together twitter experts on the topic include:

  • Discovering new practitioners to follow and grow our own networks
  • Discovering new resources and possibly new/emerging learning and teaching terms
  • We will learn something new about Twitter and crowdsourcing

When the list is compiled and published it will hopefully be a useful resource for:

  • Educational Developers who want to cross check their own key terms with the list
  • Lecturers, tutors and professionals supporting student learning who want to informally develop their practice
  • Applicants for HEA Fellowship who are assembling their claim for recognition
  • Participants on ‘Learning and Teaching in HE’ courses
  • Students studying Education at any level trying to get an overview of important terms, theories, and pedagogies

Taking part

Since this is a crowdsourced effort, this will only work if people take part!

Step 1: Tweet, tweet, tweet about your thoughts and ideas, share theories and resources, and don’t forget to use #PedagogyBingo.

Step 2: ‘Like’ and ‘Retweet’ any tweets that you see in the hashtag. Reply to tweets that you want to respond to and/or add any resources you have on the specific idea expressed in the tweet.

Sarah and I will collate a list of interesting resources, names, theories and share our results in a number of places (primarily over at though). We aim to start collating the responses in the week beginning the 10th of April, so there’s lots of time for you to get involved!

(We’re thinking about what to do with this list beyond simply collecting and collating it – there are thoughts and conversations about creating an app, interactive website, or even trying this out in a course at some point!)

Both Sarah and I are really excited about this project, so please help us out in this hopefully valuable and fun activity.


Angelika x

Sarah Chesney is a guest tutor for Newcastle University’s Staff Development Unit. She is one of the ILTHE workshop facilitators and a tutor for CASAP.

Angelika Strohmayer is a PhD student interested in digital technologies, informal critical pedagogy, and participatory research methods and methodologies. She is registered in ECLS but is based in Open Lab, working on various projects related to homelessness, sex work, and informal peer sharing for learning and support. 

Teacher peer coaching; a story of trust, agency and enablers

This blog is a good news story in terms of teacher collaboration from The Hermitage Academy, a North-East Teaching School. The Academy has deliberately and steadily built a culture of teacher collaboration. It is not perfect, but it is tangible. In this blog we focus on the contribution of teacher coaching to the collaborative culture. At Hermitage teacher peer-coaching is in its third year with a coaching development programme running to support each cohort of new coaches and coachees. All participants are volunteers and each coaching partnership involves teachers working across subjects. Our roles (the blog authors, a university-based educational researcher and a senior leader in the school) are to design and facilitate the coaching development programme, to ensure coaching becomes operational in the school and to create meaningful opportunities for formative evaluation and coaching development. Most recently this has been achieved through an interim review to which all current participants contributed. It is this evidence that we draw upon to suggest some of the reasons for the successes so far.

Coaching at Hermitage seems to be a ‘feel good’ activity, and this is not to be sniffed at. Coaching has been established in such a way that it builds on and further enhances the trust that exists between colleagues. This was highlighted by the teachers as a note-worthy characteristic. Megan Tschannen-Moran makes a strong case for trust as critical for building healthy relationships and positive school climates, and suggests that between teachers this can evolve from a stance of ‘empathy and inquiry’. Coaching conversations at Hermitage have been framed around this stance – participants are asked to engage in non-judgemental professional dialogue and appreciate that this may be different from many other episodes of observation and feedback. In their review the teachers stated that they were “not frightened to make mistakes” are willingly “more experimental” and work in a “problem-solving mode, with a focus on teaching and learning and trying to do what is best for the students”.

The coaching relationships produced a growing collective sense of where expertise and areas of interest resided in the staff

In busy school environments it is easy to find reasons not to engage in something new or voluntary, so how coaching feels matters as without enjoyment resistance would develop. In their review teachers reported enjoying building relationships through coaching, getting to know people in other departments and knowing more about their work. Coaches stated that they felt good about having learned more about teaching and learning by acting as a coach and were taking this learning into their own practice. The coaching relationships produced a growing collective sense of where expertise and areas of interest resided in the staff. This is reported as having spin-off benefits, with new and productive collaborations in teaching and learning emerging organically.

At even this basic level it could be said that coaching is contributing to teacher agency. Mark Priestley has written about this in his BERA blog post, reminding us that a focus on the individual capacity of teachers might overlook the significance of the ‘social context for teachers’ professional work’. The teachers were keen to extend this further, by actively bringing coaching participants together more often as a group to share what was being learned and developed in practice. In 2015 The Sutton Trust produced a report called ‘Developing Teachers; Improving professional development for teachers’. One of their conclusions was the significance of collaboration at two levels – between schools in a school-led self-improving system, and also between individual teachers engaging in professional learning activities. Recent research into teachers’ experiences of collaboration(Lofthouse and Thomas, 2015) reveals why collaboration might be so valuable. Collaboration for the development of their teaching practices allowed teachers and student teachers to engage in informed decision-making and to construct a shared understanding of the nature of desired learning outcomes for students and how these might be achieved in their own contexts.

As evidenced in an earlier BERA blog coaching does not always live up to its promise, but so far Hermitage seem to resolving tensions that can exist in managerial systems. In our review we considered the extent to which the practice was supported by enablers for effective professional conversations as described by Helen Timperley. She described the importance of resources, processes, knowledge, relationships and culture in enabling teachers to ‘examine the effectiveness of their practice and be committed to appropriate changes for improvement’. This might best be summed up by a group in our review who stated that the vision for coaching at the school was to create a “collaborative problem-solving culture to enable all teachers and pupils to be successful”.

Taken from BERA

Written by:

Dr RACHEL LOFTHOUSE is the Head of Education in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. She is also partnership development director for the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT). She has a specific interest in professional learning for teachers and educators, based on innovative pedagogies and curriculum design and practices for coaching and mentoring. These support her learners in building their workplace expertise while developing critical reflection and their ability to contribute to, and draw productively on, the evidence base for teaching and learning. She works with student teachers and their school-based mentors, fulltime teachers as part-time Master’s students, international postgraduate students and school leaders. Rachel has published in peer-reviewed journals on the subjects of coaching and mentoring, the innovative use of video to support practice development, practitioner enquiry and professional learning. You can find more information here.

You can follow Rachel on twitter @rmlofthouse

Emma Bulmer – Always an English teacher at heart with a specific love for English Language and all things David Crystal. My love of English most definitely stemmed from Anne of Green Gables as a child and it’s fair to say I never looked back. After studying the subject at Newcastle University it has been my pleasure to embark on a career which encourages me to learn and reflect on English and pedagogy every single day. I have just taken on the role of Assistant Vice Principal at the Academy with a responsibility for Teaching and Learning. This has given me the opportunity to work with institutions such as Newcastle University to continue developing programmes like the coaching programme within the school as well as lots of other exciting opportunities.

Thinking about the purpose of education


Recently the UK Government’s Education Select Committee opened an inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England. Evidence was invited and all 167 written contributions are now published on their website. This blog captures some of the evidence that I submitted.  My first comment was that it is not possible to identify a single purpose of education, as education has many desired outcomes. So of course, the question is a complex one, but as such it is deserving of an inquiry.

Earlier this year I used the same question as part of a Secondary PGCE lecture and the post-it notes that were sent to the front of the room and displayed using the visualiser illustrated the diversity of student teachers’ responses.  When I responded to the select committee I wanted to acknowledge this complexity but also highlight that in my opinion there should be no purpose of education which in itself undermines a determination that education creates positive changes for social justice.  I wanted to stress this because it is so much more than an ideal. It matters for individual pupils and students, their families, their communities and the wider society (national and international).

I believe that social justice through good education means that all children and young people should be able to become enthusiastic and capable learners and that they should experience success based on a curriculum which challenges them but also engages them.  As a parent and educator I want children and young people to develop healthy and affirming relationships with peers and adults that they encounter through education, which means that they should be treated with tolerance, understanding and respect and learn why they should offer the same for others.

Demonstrating learning matters so I would expect that all young people should be able to gain qualifications which are multi-faceted and recognised for their value by employers, education providers and society.  However there is growing evidence of the physical, mental and emotional strain being placed on many students by our current examination systems and the repercussions at school level, so I would also emphasis that children and young people should be taught, learn and assessed in a way that is not detrimental to their mental or physical health.

Fairness matters to children and young people and it is not sufficient to argue that ‘life’s not fair’ when we are considering their experiences and their life chances.  I would hope that all children and young people could state that their education was ‘fair’, that their achievements were deserved and their ability to make their way in life had not been hampered by injustice in their educational offer or experience.  As a response to a fair education it is reasonable that all children and young people should be enabled to make a positive contribution to society and the resources it depends on (environment, economy, community) before they have left formal education in order to develop the traits and skills which will help them to continue to do so into their futures.

One of the roles of universities, through their research, teaching and engagement is, in my opinion, to support the development of education systems which deliberately and continually adapt to ensure social justice.  In the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences we have projects, programmes, colleagues and students who are part of this contribution. The spaces, dialogues and activities that result may not change the world alone, but they do help us to make a difference.

A blog by Dr Rachel Lofthouse

April 26th 2016: Newcastle University is hosting joint BERA and BELMAS event; How to research critical conversations in educational leadership

Newcastle University is hosting joint BERA and BELMAS event on April 26th in which we will ask the question; How to research critical conversations in educational leadership?

For more information on how to contribute and participate click here.

The aim of the event is to define leadership widely then talk about the methods of researching it. We want to explore narrative, auto-ethnography, experiment, testimonial, ethnography, survey and more. Leadership can mean how do you go about getting people to co-create, collaborate? It does mean school effectiveness and headship but it is far far wider than this. How do you take leadership in education in relation to issues such as gender, language, ethnicity, sexuality etc? Leadership means.. pupil voice and more. It means… collaborative working. What does teacher leadership mean? What does it require to take leadership in education outside schools – i.e. rethinking education? It means rethinking the means of leadership – i.e. What is the role of digital technology in leadership? What theory tools are important in thinking about this area?

An architectural perspective on educational challenges – Jesmond Garden Primary School experience

Paula Cardellino is an academic colleague from Uruguay who has been visiting CfLaT and ECLS.  Here she reflects on a visit to an unusual local School.

My name is Paula Cardellino, and I am an architect and a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, Universidad ORT Uruguay, Montevideo. Through the financial support of the British Embassy in Montevideo, Pam Woolner and myself have had the opportunity to work together in the development of future projects that will, hopefully, continue to build on the fundamental idea that school physical environments are intimately related to pedagogical approaches. From very different angles, we both argue for the importance of reaching a balance between the design of physical learning environments and the educational agenda.

During my 2 weeks visit to ECLS I had the chance to visit Jesmond Garden Primary School in Hartlepool together with Pam.  The school facility was built 6 years ago with the Headtheacher´s ultimate aim to make it into a transformational school, not only in terms of innovative pedagogical ideas but also its physical environment.  As she explained,  “we didn´t want a new old building”..

The school has a distinctive design. With 3 cylinders popping out from the rooftop it stands out from the surrounding streets of houses, and suggests that something different is happening inside. Indeed, getting to see the old school before the new one, an old Victorian building, made it clear that the transformational educational agenda that the Headteacher aimed for needed parallel changes to the physical environment.


Upon arrival, we are greeted by Jane Loomes, the school´s Headteacher, a lively, very determined person, eager to show and tell us all about the design and building process. 2During the conversation she tells us that previous to the start of the school design they visited various schools in the UK to get a better idea of what could be done in terms of building design. She felt, though, that some foundational ideas were clear from the very start of the process: flexibility of use of the learning spaces and the instrumentation of the superclass philosophy – units for 90 children with a team of teachers. This not only meant making best use of the staff resources (staffing) but also implementing innovative ideas to the school project such as acoustic solutions.  Added to these challenges, there was a need to make it exceedingly comfortable. She, particularly, wanted the school to feel very warm, natural, airy, calm, relaxing; a cocoon from the outside world.

During the design process, that took around 8 months, a number of meetings and discussions took place between the stakeholders (staff, pupils, parents) and the designer. Many topics were discussed during these meetings, but the main idea continued to be around the transformation of the educational agenda within the school building, touching on concepts such as ´sense of belonging´, ´school as a home´ and enjoyment of learning.

3From the walk around the school it is noticeable that from the heart of the school the use of curved shapes allow for the teaching-classroom areas to become real; though not welcomed at first, the use of curves enabled the inclusion of flexible arrangements within the learning spaces: even the toilets have an unusual circular shape.  Three circles that can host up to 90 children compose the not very traditional classroom space. Separated by acoustic curtains the areas can become different teaching environments or turn into smaller places.

4As I leave you now with my views on this very different school building you can consider if this is something that you would enjoy as a student, a parent or a teacher. It certainly felt to us that a transformation of the culture, practices and setting for learning has occurred at Jesmond Gardens.



Hear more from Paula and Pam when they speak at an interdisciplinary discussion this Thursday: