Or…What I learnt from Tim Minchin about teaching.

Tim Minchin did a wonderful speech to graduates at UWA which can be found here. His point about Micro-ambition really got me thinking about big dreams and goals and how we should approach what we do as educators…

Don’t spend your life chasing one dream
I’m not suggesting that we stop reaching for the stars but more that we remember to look around us at the beautiful moments and opportunities that surround us each day and embrace them. Don’t be so focused on one goal that nothing else matters unless your going to cure a major disease or end world hunger or make a tasty biscuit that won’t collapse when dunked.

This is doing something about those small moments and opportunities. If you are doing something take pride in it and do it well; as Tim (we’re not actually on a first name basis but he doesn’t seem to be hung up on formality) suggests this doing stuff well leads to other interesting opportunities. For us teachers it means looking beyond our data and development plans and noticing things in our lessons and our school community. Look for little ways to make a difference that matter. Grab little projects and ideas; do them well, move on with your life.

Small Steps
Focusing in on the small things like this is a way to make real progress; it might not be as linear as an action plan but you’ll be moving forward, learning, developing and making a difference. A lot of small steps will take you a long way and if you’re passionate about what you do who knows where the journey will go.

As all powerful and wise as we feel on our best days we can’t even begin to imagine the big picture of our whole lives. We need to make sure we grab the pieces we want and stick them together and stop worrying about the box; you’ll always have more opportunities to be in a box.

The Moment
So how do we do this? Live in the moment! I know that’s lame advice, it sounds like a self-help cliché from an airport bookstore. What I mean is focus in on little things that are happening right in front of you and ask yourself how can I make this “more”. Don’t ignore the future but remember to make a life in the present.

If we’re putting pride into doing what’s in front of us and noticing the little things we should celebrate those things. Share those victories; share the successes of others. If you can’t celebrate your own successes or those of others I fear you may be missing out on life joys. Embrace the special moments in life!

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE



I always find this style of writing strange; I’m very comfortable rambling on about education, leadership and culture but it always seems strange to write about me. It shouldn’t be, I’m a very reflective person but sharing it is a little bit weird. I think part of it is leaving yourself exposed to anyone who happens upon your ramblings.

It also doesn’t quite align with my vision, I always imagined that my blog would be just about educational and associated topics, not some tosh on my inner self.

However, I’ve really enjoyed the #nurture1415 series of blogs and have decided to add my musings to the chorus of voices. Warning: May contain stuff not about teaching and frankly of no real use;)

So then, 5 things I’m proud of…

1) I’ve learnt a lot – See, it’s sounding weird and boastful already. This has been thanks to so many others. I read a lot of books and try a lot of my own ideas out but regularly attending Teachmeet events and reading blogs/Twitter has had a significant impact on my practice this year. I’m also fortunate enough to work with some exceptional colleagues who willingly share their ideas and inspire me to be a better teacher.

2) The Lakeland 50 – I’m about as fast as a hippopotamus but I managed to complete just over 50 miles in the Lake District on trails last summer. It was incredibly brutal and I got a lot from achieving this. Putting this in context for those who would like to run but think “I could never do this.” – I’m an overweight asthmatic with food allergies, a massive fear of heights, a dodgy ankle and a sweet tooth that makes Willy Wonka look like a health food addict. If you fancy giving running a go don’t be put off if you’re not a Lycra clad whippet, do it for yourself, not them.

3) I’ve made a difference to others – If you know me this one will shock you as much as it did me. Sharing my ideas online and at Teachmeet events has resulted in a lot of positive feedback about how I’ve had an impact on other people. I never expected this and still feel confused when people are complimenting me; I’ve managed to learn to give heartfelt and meaningful compliments over the years, but I still struggle receiving them. Not being quite sure if it’s real or not, guess that’s one for a psychologist to explain to me.

4) My own blog – I used to think that blogging would be a bit self promoting and therefore I was put off it for a long time. It was @lisajaneashes that set the ball rolling for me thinking it would be a good idea and I started blogging on @pedagoo in March. At the end of October I started my own blog and I feel genuinely proud of this. If anyone reads my thoughts that’s a bonus, the real value in blogging is taking the time to process and reflect on your ideas. I enjoy that and look forward to writing more in the coming year.

5) Discovering presenting – In the past I’ve always delivered CPD sessions in small groups in very low profile ways; this year has seen me present to much larger audiences at Teachmeet events and I’ve found that I enjoy public speaking. I always get nervous before I present, I think that’s natural, but I do enjoy it. It’s also been a great way to meet interesting people. Going to Teachmeets regularly is also the nearest thing I’ve had to a social life since I started teaching; I genuinely regard so many people I’ve met at these as friends.

5 goals…

1) Be a better husband/father – This one is about the intent; nothing is more important than my family but it’s a worry that between work and running they may not get the best of me. This means I may not do a great deal differently but I’ll be more conscious of them when I’m tired or busy. I’m thinking if I focus on doing at least one thing special each week for them consciously and with intent I’ll feel that I’ve achieved this.

2) Improve my Lakeland 50 time – I know it’s not about the time but I’d like to attempt the Lakeland 100 at some point and to do that I do need to get faster to meet the cut off times. As always with me it’s about small steps and realistic goals that will allow me to achieve this. It could be in a few years or may always beyond my reach but I’m all about improving. I know I’m going to need to eat cleaner and put in a lot of hard miles to make this happen.

3) Homework – I really want to find a system of homework that works for both the learners and myself. I’ve tried a few different things over the years but the most positive response I’ve had has been from recent trials on Google Classroom. I’m planning to roll this out across KS3 Beliefs & Values in the New Year to see how it works out. Fingers crossed.

4) Keep writing – I’m really enjoying writing regularly. It’s becoming a habit so I’m committing to writing something at least once a month. It seems like a small amount but it will remind me to keep it up when life gets busy.

5) Never be satisfied – It may sound insane but being satisfied is one of my greatest fears. I fear the slow decline that comes when we stop striving and struggling to be more. I’m ok about being satisfied with certain aspects of life and of my professional practice but I never want to be without goals or dreams. As the character Tyler Durden so eloquently puts it “May I never be complete.”

I know I could have set more educational goals but I feel that I already give teaching my all, so my focuses for the new year reflect a need to balance life.

So, chase those dreams and make your vision reality. Be your own hero this year.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


Why @pedagoo?

I’m a huge fan of @pedagoo as an institution and I’d like to share what makes it so important to me.

The @pedagoo community is one of equals, everyone’s views are welcomed and valued. There’s no egos; it’s all about the sharing and supporting each other. This is what makes it so special; I believe every teacher has nuggets of gold to share and we should always be ready to learn from each other.

The Blog
A lot of people are put off blogging due to the commitment of having to constantly post to maintain a blog. It’s a big commitment and you have to enjoy your writing to keep a blog going.

The @pedagoo group blog allows educators who have a great idea to share to do so without the hassle of having their own blog. It provided me with a medium to share my ideas once I had decided to write but didn’t know whether I’d want to keep up the commitment.

If you’ve got a great idea to share don’t be nervous, click the link http://www.pedagoo.org and have a go.

If you’ve ever been to #PedagooFriday on Twitter I hope you’ll agree that it’s a beacon of educational hope. Educators who are passionate about what they do sharing what they’re proud of and celebrating the positives of their week. I find that ending the week on such a high with new ideas to try the following week invigorates me. If you’re an educator and aren’t on Twitter yet I recommend joining for #PedagooFriday alone. If you’re on Twitter and haven’t had a look, come along and join in.

The Events
As well as providing a welcoming community of equals as an instant PLN, a great group blog and an inspirational way to end your week @pedagoo members also put on some fantastic events. Much like Teachmeets it’s about educators sharing what they do but @pedagoo does it a little differently with group seminars and time for deep dialogue on the issues considered. If you haven’t been to one make sure you look out for future events.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


@lisajaneashes opening the 2014 #pedagoochristmasparty

A list of my blogs on @pedagoo with links can be found here.

#100wordbookreview Mindset by Carol Dweck

There’s a great deal out there on Mindsets and their implications for education. If you want to really understand what it’s all about and the deeper reasoning and research behind it Dweck expresses it in an accessible and fluid style.

Breaking down the impact of self esteem and the effect it has on motivation and achievement Dweck makes a compelling argument to develop growth Mindsets for ourselves and our learners.

Packed with research and anecdotes to illustrate key points this is a seminal piece on the cognitive theory of Mindsets which should be read by everyone interested in student achievement.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


What really matters? #teacher5aday

When @MartynReay (blog here)asked me to share a personal challenge for 2015 to do with teacher wellbeing I knew I wasn’t planning to change anything in the new year. It’s difficult to admit that but I don’t plan to prioritise myself any more than I have in previous years. I know this will come as a surprise due to my enthusiasm and passion for supporting others but I’d like to explain why and in doing so share why I am truly content.

We were visited last week by Maj Carboni from Skoleborn magazine in Denmark to look at the things we do in school. We were very proud to share what we do and she was shocked by the hours teachers in the UK work. As much as I’d love the current Danish system of one hour non-contact per hour of teaching I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I don’t believe that we can have it all in the current climate; the hours and the expectations in education are high and we do this as a vocation. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t be doing it for free; but I genuinely believe what I do makes a difference and that I have to make sacrifices to try to be the kind of teacher I want to be.

I make the sacrifices I do willingly in order to protect the things that are most important and I’m comfortable with those choices. Would I like to spend more time with friends, watch more films, go out on a school night, perhaps even sleep a little more? Of course, but sometimes you have to ask yourself what’s most important. For me it’s the choices below:

Family first is a motto I wholeheartedly believe in. Nothing in this world is more precious to me than my son and wife. It’s why people think I’m weird when I say I’ll check with my wife before agreeing to things. She’s a reasonable (and incredibly patient, being married to me) woman but I always want to make sure my choices aren’t having a negative impact on them. So rather than thoughtlessly agreeing to everything I’d like to do and hoping for the best I politely check.


I love my job, I enjoy almost all of my work, which is as good as it gets. I’d like more time to do it but hey, I’m not from Denmark. My passion for education is such that my hobbies include reading educational books, going to additional CPD like Teachmeets and now I’ve added writing about it on my blog to the list. It’s important to me and I’m glad it is; we spend a fair chunk of our lives at work. If you don’t like it or the people you work with you need to change something. I consider myself very fortunate to do something that I enjoy and that makes a difference with people I like and respect for a living.


I may just have an addictive personality and I get a huge fix from running. As well as keeping me healthy and stopping my love of food making me look like a Santa impersonator all year round there’s a great deal of satisfaction in the challenges and achievements. Looking forward to
future events also helps to keep things in perspective when deadlines loom and times are busy.


Final Thoughts:
So why on Earth did I just write this? I wanted to share three pieces of advice that help me stay contented in my life…

1: Know what really matters to you. If you need to make sacrifices it’s best to know what you want to protect.

2: Love what you do OR go and do what you love. Life’s too short to embrace misery on purpose.

3: Find something fulfilling outside of work too. There may not be a lot of time for work life balance but we all need a distraction.

So, I offer no promises and unapologetically accept no challenge to change. What I will offer is the small gift of sharing my secrets to staying content.

Look after yourself.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


A random picture of a penguin dressed as John McClane. Just because it made me smile;)

What makes an inspirational teacher?

Following this weeks #riddlemethised slow chat on inspiration I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what makes an inspirational teacher, how to feel inspired and how to make learners feel inspirational. A lot of this thinking was inspired by the interactions on the chat and I’m grateful for people being so open and sharing their thoughts.

What makes an inspirational teacher?:
Passion: There was a lot of dialogue about passion and I really buy into this. Personally I imagine that being a teacher without a passion for your subject, education, changing young people’s lives and learning would be a long hard slog. I love what I do and I couldn’t work with the intensity required with a teachers workload if I didn’t have that passion. Do the students notice? I hope so, but it may not be the passion itself they notice but the things we do because of it. We’re all different stylistically, however I like to think that passion drives the overwhelming majority in education to do the special things we do.

Challenge: For me it was the teacher that asked powerful questions and questioned everything who created challenge in our lessons. The idea of creating opportunities for students to achieve more than they thought possible inspires me; I’d like to think it has an impact on them too. Growing their self esteem through increasing their abilities and knowledge is a worthy goal.

Relationships: Sometimes students are inspired by the feeling that their teachers genuinely care. Showing you care is such a simple thing to do. Smiling, saying hello in the corridor, paying an interest in what they have to say, all easy ways to show it. Showing you care about what they achieve is the other part of this; that their grades matter to you because they represent their learning and growth, not just seeing them as data.

Reality: Different things inspire and motivate different people. If it were simple everyone would be enthused all the time. I believe that passion, challenge and relationships are important pieces of the puzzle, but not the whole solution.

Importance of being inspired:
Unless we’re the worlds greatest actors creating enthusiasm, motivation and inspiration requires us feeling special too. The biggest sources of inspiration in our discussion were the students and our colleagues.

So many of us feel inspired when we see the learners working hard to achieve their goals, or in those special moments in class. I thinks it’s fantastic that the students themselves inspire us as educators; it’s reassuring that our focus is on the right thing.

The other big inspiration noted was our colleagues; whether in our schools, at Teachmeet events or on Twitter we’re fortunate to have so many opportunities to share our ideas and enthusiasm with each other. Sharing within our schools and networks has always been possible but the digital communication available makes sharing beyond our traditional boundaries normal for so many of us.

Making the learners feel inspirational:
The concept that it’s about making the learners feel inspirational rather than us came from @andydalziell. (Sadly the # hasn’t recorded this, hence the personal mention as the rest are on the Storify below.)

This raises the challenge of creating ways to make students feel inspirational. This takes on two aspects for me; the development of Mindsets and creating meaningful learning experiences.

By the development of Mindsets I’m referring to Carol Dweck’s work in this field. The main idea being if we perceive our intelligence as something which can be changed and developed we will change our commitment and actions. @Pekabelo shares some fantastic ideas for developing Growth Mindset here.

Learning experiences are much clearer; by creating meaningful learning opportunities to develop our learners in a broader sense. Such as making lessons special, immersive learning experiences, school trips or special responsibilities such as prefects or digital leaders. I wrote about the idea of making school special in this way here last month.

The Storify of the #riddlemethised slow chat which is the source of many thoughtful contributions I reflected on is here: http://sfy.co/st7M

If you’d like to write a post about inspiration and teaching on @pedagoo click on the link here:- http://www.pedagoo.org We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE

Culture Shift – Christmas Special

Notes on key themes from my keynote 10/12/14 at #TMSnowball.

Dressed as Santa (not my idea, blame @abbey4man and @Hermitage_E) I wanted to share some simple ways to improve the culture in school which can be done by anyone. Culture isn’t just for leaders after all, we’re all part of it.

Before that were the naughty and nice lists…

Naughty List
If you want my cynicism and political commentary you’ll need to see me in person, I’m not writing that stuff down;)

Nice List
Those who empower: We all know people like these whose kind words allow you to achieve more than you thought possible. Thank you for the encouragement you give to people to allow them to be better.

The thinkers: Wonderful people pushing new ideas and refining old ones, making sure they’re never satisfied as they seek the holy grail of education for all of us.

The sharers: Those who give so freely, sharing their ideas, support and advice; reminding us that we’re all on the same side in education.

The future: My final focus on the nice list…the future teachers. I really do admire those starting off in our profession full of passion and determined to change young people’s lives. My personal advice to you, stay that way and the job will always be special.

Now for some quick ideas about how you can change your school culture…

A smile isn’t just for Christmas; it’s ok to be nice to people all year round. As much as I love teaching it’s a tough job, a lot of work and a lot of hours. It’s a hugely emotional job because as teachers we care so much about what we do. If you think that’s true then why not smile, be nice and make life a little easier for those around you. We’re all on the same team.

Always be generous, it’s a trait valued by so many cultures and celebrated during this festive season, but how can your generosity help in schools?

Time: If someone comes to you for support, give them your time. Make them your number one priority right there, or if you can’t make a time where you can. They’ve chosen you, make sure you earn that trust.
(@MrHumanities gave me that great piece of advice.)

Ideas: You’re not going to change the world if you keep it all in your head. If you share ideas it’s good for others and good for you; your colleagues will support you, offer refinements and suggest challenges. Sharing an idea is a great way to make it a better one.

Compassion: Care, and show that you care. Life can be hard, whether it’s students or colleagues it costs nothing to show they matter to you but it counts for a lot.

Send Cards
I’m assuming that many of us send cards at this time of year; why not make some of them really count. Use a few of those cards to send a special message to one or two of your colleagues who make a difference to you. Make sure you tell them exactly why you appreciate them, they deserve to know. If you don’t do Christmas cards you can always buy a pack of notecards and send those instead.

Finally we finished with a game you can play too…

Your challenge is to tell a Christmas story using only 12 words. It’ll fit on a tweet if you want to join in on the hashtag or you could even use it as a fun competition in school.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


Directives for Research Projects

After reading The Secret of Literacy by @LearningSpy I really liked the brief he gives learners for project work. It puts in place a few guidelines to help students avoid common pitfalls which lead to sloppy work.

Such as…

When you send them off to research something, even with extensive discussion on success criteria and expectations so clear that if they were a glass door you could walk into them, you can still get a mixed bag of responses. Therefore clearly express how you want them to research.

Another of the big dangers of independent research which @LearningSpy mentions is the copy and paste tradition which has come about from the use of technology. It’s like copying out of a textbook without even needing to make the effort to look at or write the words to make them appear on the page.

You’re also dealing with the dangers of only using one source; without a variety of sources how can we ascertain the value of our research sources? How can we make them reflect on the issue rather than just replicating the thoughts of others? So, use at least 3 sources.

Behold, a simple solution! Give them a series of instructions to be handed out at the start about how to research and what I expect seemed a great idea. I also wanted to guide them into making sure they:

1) Knew what they were looking for or check if they didn’t.

2) Have some sort of checklist to help them organise themselves and keep focus.

3) Didn’t mistake independent research with looking at Google images.

I know they say a picture paints a thousand words, but until all exams start accepting doodles as answers I’m going to have to insist we research knowledge and meaning rather than just looking at pretty pictures.

After adding my personal requirements for my learners to the list I sent them to the wonderful Technician Team to make them look nice. I know that content is of primary importance, but we’ve got a hugely talented team who can add real production values to our resources, so why not make them special?

The final version looks like this and will be laminated as a permanent addition to my pedagogical arsenal.


Looking forward to seeing if it has an impact…

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE

With huge gratitude to @LearningSpy whose excellent website can be found here http://www.learningspy.co.uk

My review of his book “The Secret of Literacy” can be found here http://wp.me/p5hvJ8-4W


This brief post is intended as a guide to joining in on the above chat.

1) It’s a slow chat. That means once the question is shared on Monday it’ll be up for discussion all week. This allows time for reflection.

2) It’s a positive sharing experience; the dream is to share ideas, strategies and reflections. It’s a @pedagoo inspired project; let’s keep that ethos.

3) It’s not about being right, it’s about thinking, sharing and developing ideas. This isn’t a debate, it’s a philosophical discussion.

4) A note on blogs; if you want to share a blog about that weeks topic it would be great. Post it once and people can have a look if they choose to. Please don’t just use it as a hashtag to spam all of your blogs on.

5) Try to use the hashtag; otherwise your wisdom may be lost in the echoing halls of Twitterland.

To quote @lisajaneashes:

Not looking for answers just debating the question. Keeping it positive, not arguing just offering.

I hope to see you on the chat.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE

If you want to know how the chat came about…http://wp.me/p5hvJ8-5g


Just one more thing…

OR…Thinking inside the box.

Nearing the end of the Pedagoo Christmas Party we asked participants to ask any questions they would like us to discuss at the after party. Questions were put on slips and posted into a black box.

I like using a box in lessons to post questions and ideas as it promotes honesty and curiosity through the anonymity. If no one knows who wrote the question, no one can judge.


We had a few fun ones and I can answer those here:

1) It depends on the type of bear; natural habitats impact on these habits.

2) Don’t worry it was shading, Columbo didn’t have a beard.

The thing is, if you use a box to generate random questions and ideas in a lesson you’ll get some fun and silly responses. I’m ok about that as I like a little humour and when you draw the questions out you can filter the madness in a lesson if you wish.

Fast forward to the after party…

We’d already had some great ideas shared over fabulous food at Blake’s in Newcastle, all paid for by @VisionForEd. Then we opened the black box, what happened next was a passionate and intriguing debate on the first two questions. There was so much to discuss we didn’t really touch the pile of great discussion topics. It seemed such a shame we hadn’t debated all of these wonderful questions.

The solution…
To keep the learning going I’m suggesting we post each question to Twitter for a slow chat. That means using the hashtag in your post, but any time you like over a week rather than feeling rushed. As Pedagoo was the reason for this wonderful event I’d like to suggest we launch each one via the @pedagoo Twitter account to allow a wide range of people to engage and reflect on the following hashtag:-

(Thanks to @lisajaneashes for the hashtag idea.)


The Many Questions…

1) What makes an inspirational teacher?

2) How do we move away from exam based assessment towards a more holistic and skills based form of assessment?

3) One good way to stretch and challenge the top pupils in your class?

4) What is one quick way of assessing pupil progress in your lesson?

5) How do we value ALL subjects on the curriculum?

6) Where do you get all of your enthusiasm from?

7) How do you persuade “some” SLT to stop being negative and smile?

8) How do we embed information skills into a packed curriculum? Who’s responsible?

9) “I don’t do Excel” – How do you help this middle leader? (Tips for using Excel in Education.)

10) How can we address apathy towards the Arts, and the notion that the only worthwhile subjects lead to financial success? (Slightly edited to protect the innocent.)

11) How do we deal with “Lesson Stoppers” where there is an immediate child protection issue?

12) Why do some kids do their homework and some kids do not?

13) How do we ensure that EAL learners are included and accepted by native English speaking learners in our classroom?

14) How can we better share what we do as professionals?

15) How do we best include EAL students within a mixed ability classroom to make progress?

16) Convinced of the value of homework, why?

17) How will the changes to GCSE be valuable?

So that’s 17 weeks of chat…we’ll see what happens after that.

Final Thoughts

I’d really like to thank @lisajaneashes for organising the event and the hugely generous sponsors that made it happen:
Vision for Education
Newcastle University
Crown House Publishing
It’s organisations like these giving back to the teaching community that allows a lot of special things to happen in our area and I’m truly grateful for that.


Bits and bobs from the day are on the following:

There will also be a few blogs coming out soonish on http://www.pedagoo.org to share ideas from the sessions held.

Hopefully see you on the chat…

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE