Planning the Perfect Lesson

Good morning and welcome! Enjoy our next extract from ‘Becoming an Outstanding Tutor’ which includes a checklist on planning a positively perfect lesson.

pg 71, Critical thinking activity 10

The following short checklist of points (adapted from an article by David Didau, entitled ‘Planning a “Perfect” Lesson’ (Didau, 2012, online)) can contribute to delivering effective and engaging teaching, learning and assessment. Using this checklist, identify the similarities and differences between what you believe is good curriculum lesson delivery and good group tutorial delivery.


Please don’t hesitate to go to our website and stay tuned for the last extract entry tomorrow!

What is a Personal Tutor?

So it’s a Wednesday afternoon and time for our third exclusive from Ben Walker and Andrew Stork‘s new book ‘Becoming an Outside Personal Tutor’. Enjoy and keep watching this space for more extracts throughout the week.

p.9: The definition of the personal tutor

Here, we define the personal tutor. But remember, in this book we shall explore what it means to be an outstanding personal tutor.

The personal tutor is one who improves the intellectual and academic ability, and nurtures the emotional well-being, of learners through individualised, holistic support.

What constitutes emotional well-being is discussed later in the book.

In addition to this definition, we want to bring in the highly important and valuable element of coaching. Personal tutoring and coaching can be seen as separate, but the model of the outstanding personal tutor includes coaching elements within it.

For more information, please visit our website. See you all tomorrow!

Do Teachers and Personal Tutors Need Supervision too?

Another day, another exclusive entry for you! Ben Walker, the co-writer of ‘Becoming an Outstanding Personal Tutor’ tells us about the importance of support for teachers and personal tutors.

You wouldn’t believe what’s going on with that student…I’ve no idea what to do.”  Heard yourself uttering something like this quite often to your colleagues?  What is the response?  Imagine this.  A colleague immediately stops what they’re doing, turns round to face you, looks you in the eye with a concentrated gaze and says, “I’m here to help, tell me all about it”.  When did that last happen?  Has it ever happened?   Of course, your colleagues aren’t being deliberately unhelpful.  At least one hopes that is the case!  The conflicting pressures on all of us make it difficult for us to drop our current activity to support a colleague.

Providing outstanding support comes with the bi-products of students opening up to you more, relying on you for emotional support, wanting even more support and thus exposing you to challenging, emotionally draining and potentially upsetting issues.  Combined with the whirlwind life of the trainee teacher, the question of how to cope before it all becomes overwhelming needs to be explored.

Long established in psychotherapy and counselling for example, supervision is less so in education.  Most definitions imply that supervision relies on a structure and certain rules.  There can be some differences within this, so maybe it is more useful to think of a framework of guidelines within which supervision sessions should be carried out.

A framework for supervision sessions:

How often?

  • a reasonable regularity needs maintaining for keeping momentum going and possibly revisiting issues and reviewing progress.

Who is invited?

  • a small group of your peers at work (group supervision) or a one to one with a peer or your manager (‘paired’ or ‘individual’ supervision);
  • in the case of the former, the line manager doesn’t attend or only if specifically invited. Reasons for this:
  • to avoid the manager leading and, possibly even without knowing, driving an agenda and seeing himself or herself as there to ‘solve’ issues;
  • exploration of the issue is reduced;
  • participants will feel more free to express feelings they may have about the issue without a potential fear of looking ‘weak’ or ‘not coping’ in front of their manager;
  • supervision is differentiated from other typical work meetings.   

What are the ground rules?

  • use of a confidential space;
  • a specific amount of time is given;
  • one person to talk at a time;
  • clarity over whose issues will be aired that session; it may be that it is only 1 or 2 per session;
  • this lead contributor(s) to start the session outlining the issue along with their concerns / questions;
  • concentration on that issue and the contributor’s concern and questions without digression from this or others bringing in their concerns;
  • focus on open questions from the group enabling the lead contributor to find their own solutions.

The support side of the teacher role can feel like you’re more of a social worker than teacher. Given the demands on you in the face of serious and challenging issues with students who you want to support as best you can, if supervision sessions were built into your working routine, how helpful would it be?

See our website for more information and keep an eye on our blog for more from the authors of ‘Becoming an Outstanding Personal Tutor’.

Want to Read an Exclusive Extract from Our Newly Published Book?

What an exciting week we have lined up! Throughout the next few days we will be publishing some extracts from our newly published book ‘Becoming an Outstanding Personal Tutor’. Our first is on solution-focused coaching, an essential technique worth adapting for those of you who are aspiring personal tutors! Thank you to the co-writer Andrew Stork for providing this exclusive and exciting insight.

5 key characteristics of using solution-focused coaching with learners

The following 5 key characteristics help you focus the way you view and use solution-focused coaching in your day to day conversations with learners:

  1. Positive change can occur

Solution-focused coaching works on the assumption that positive change can occur with your learners and that this change can happen quickly.

  1. Clear goals and self-directed action

You should work with each learner to define specific goals, however, it’s worth noting a good coaching conversation doesn’t stop when it stops. Set a clear expectation that the learner must be self-directed and take the responsibility to implement actions to achieve their goals outside of the coaching conversations.

  1. Develop solutions and focus on the future; not dwelling on problems within the past or present

Ensure you listen to any issues or problems to communicate empathy and develop rapport with your learners. However, swiftly move the conversation on to exploring future goals, past successes and what skills, knowledge and abilities they have.

  1. Using the learner’s experience, expertise and resources

A solution-focused coach is an enabler and facilitator. There is a belief that the learner is likely to already have the answers and the ability to take themselves forward and as their teacher or personal tutor, it is your role to help them notice this.

When learners feel they have worked something out for themselves, there is a greater chance that they will ask themselves these questions in the future and coach themselves. The best coaches in some ways become invisible.

  1. Reframing the learner’s perspective and help them to notice positives

Possibilities include reframing and helping them to notice:

  • a distant possibility as a near possibility;
  • a weakness as a strength;
  • a problem as an opportunity.

If this already strikes your fancy then please go to our website for more details on the book, or stick around for the next couple of days for more exclusive extracts!

My First Year of University

This is the final post of the academic year by Taylor Cornes, a first year primary student at the University of Worcester. Happy holidays Taylor!

The end of my first year at the University of Worcester is finally here, and may I start by emphasising how incredibly fast it has gone! It only seems like yesterday I was typing up my blog post about ‘Surviving your first week of University’, and it’s equally as scary to think that as of September I will be a second year student – which is when all of the hard work commences.

As I have been posting updates on what my first year has consisted of along the way during the past few months, this blog post will be more of a reflection on my first year as a whole: what I have learnt from it, who I have met, and the experiences we have shared.

My first year of study at the University of Worcester can be summed up in one word – fantastic. It is a wonderful feeling not only being surrounded by amazing students, but by a brilliant team of staff and lecturers too; I can’t imagine how I’d be feeling at this stage if I didn’t have the strong support system from my peers, friends and tutors.

A major lesson that I have learnt from my first year of University is that it is not as scary as I initially thought it would be. I started the academic year as a shy, nervous and extremely anxious 18 year old, but I have gradually been brought out of my shell, and my confidence has soared; I feel able to take on any challenge that is sent my way.

I wasn’t very optimistic when starting University due to home issues involving my Father’s health, however, through the support from my Academic Tutor and the lovely group of friends I have made, I was able to forget about the negatives and focus on the positives. As Helen Keller once said “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”.

 I have been offered and have taken up some excellent opportunities since my degree began, and I owe it to the University of Worcester for enabling me to blossom as an individual.

In reflection, I have developed so many skills and acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge in such a short space of time, it seems. I am now confident on Harvard referencing (a term that was completely alien to me upon starting University). I have recently chaired a Course Management Committee meeting – something I could not have even dreamed of doing as I look back at the person I was in Induction Week, and finally, I have learnt that external examiners aren’t as scary as you might think after having a meeting with them this week to discuss how I feel about the course that I am on.

Now the final assignments have been submitted and my first year is officially over, I can begin to relax – starting with my holiday to Corfu next week! I have some exciting plans in the pipeline for the next academic year as I must keep busy at all times, and I will be able to share these with you closer to the time. But for now, I want to personally thank Julia, Di and everyone from Critical Publishing for giving me this opportunity to blog about my student teacher experiences.

I would like to wish everyone a spectacular summer, and I will be back blogging mid-September when the chaos that is Induction Week begins all over again!

Emotionally Intelligent relationships – a guide for secondary teachers

Today we publish the third extract from our latest book Understanding and Supporting Behaviour through Emotional Intelligence – A Critical Guide for Secondary Teachers by Victor Allen. In this extract Victor discusses the importnce of emotionally intelligent relationships.

Building a relationship
The art of being a good teacher is being able to build good, strong, respectful relationships with your students. Your involvement can be key to making the difference, and it is also one of the greatest joys, as you watch your students travel through the different stages of their lives. You have to create an environment of safety and trust on which to build knowledge for life as well as for the academic subject. To do this, you need to watch how events in the classroom are affecting the students’ emotions and identify areas of development, both emotionally and academically. Any area of classroom interaction can involve the emotional part of the brain taking over in a good or negative way, and we need to watch and manage that as best we can. Introducing games or competitions will engage the emotional part of the brain as fun is being introduced, but this will need to be controlled so that it doesn’t get overexcited and move into silliness. So the thinking part of the brain needs to be encouraged to manage the fun in a sensible way.

As discussed in earlier chapters, the ‘emotional’ brain develops faster than the ‘thinking’ part of the brain, and so it is ready to kick in almost instantaneously when triggered by any provocation. We have to be able to manage our tone and language in order to keep the thinking brain engaged and manage the emotional brain. If we can see that emotions are taking over, we must act in a way that gives the student a chance to re-engage their thinking brain and start to manage their emotions , by de-escalating the situation or deflecting their attention.

Before any task that may involve the students moving away from the normal classroom activity, for example practical lessons in science, the tendency is to tell the students what we don’t want them to do or to warn them that any silliness will result in the activity being stopped. Here I suggest that you explain beforehand what you are going be doing and then ask them what kinds of behaviour you will be expecting from them. What will they have to look out for? And also ask who will find staying sensible tricky? You can do this by letting them know that you appreciate that it may be hard for them to stay on task, but you will be helping them and may require them to step outside to refocus before returning for the activity. The aim is to look after and coach those you know are going to find it tricky, rather than start with being hard on them with threats of punishment. If they fail, then it has more to do with their ability to focus, and remember that is very rarely improved with punishment.

Body language and tone of voice
When observing NQTs, one of the most common things on which I give feedback is the use of their body language and tone of voice. Both of these things are affected when we are under stress and both need to be managed and overcome to enable us to demonstrate control and authority.

Maintaining control of a classroom involves constant vigilance – your positioning and tone of voice within the classroom can have a calming effect upon the class just as easily as it can create an environment for misbehaviour and silliness.

Consistency of approach
Consistency and familiarity are important for building a relationship with a class. Each school will have its own set of ground rules that teachers should follow – these build familiarity and allow both staff and pupils to understand expectations of behaviour. Some schools will expect pupils to line up outside the room. In others, students will be expected to enter the class quietly and stand behind chairs. Whatever you are guided to do, it is very important for you to be consistent in doing it. The more consistent you are, the more quickly you will gain control of the classroom. Swapping and changing things to see what works best will only cause confusion, and this in turn will encourage behavioural problems.

Have one set position within the classroom from which you always start the lesson. This should be where all students can have easy eye contact with you. You need to be standing as this will give the element of control. This starting position will help students get used to focusing on you to be ready to receive the first instructions.

Speak with calmness, expectation, hope and encouragement and, if possible, have a smile on your face, as this will add to the feeling of calmness and build upon the warm greeting you gave them at the door. It will also keep you focused upon how you are feeling.

Those who find it hard to settle
Students will sometimes find it hard to settle for a number of reasons – perhaps they’re just back from an exciting lunch break or have been having a laugh with friends on the way to the classroom. This is a guidance and encouragement opportunity with which to start, not a discipline issue.

There are a number of ways to deal with this.
• Move towards where the students are seated while talking to other students along the way, commenting on good things that others are doing or have done within your class or with their homework. You can also make comments about good social behaviour.

• Try to gain eye contact with the offending students and see if a frown or just a look will have the desired effect. There is a difference between making eye contact and maintaining eye contact; three seconds is optimal for maintaining eye contact, but don’t get drawn into a staring contest. It is just meant as a statement for them to engage with you. If they do, then a nod of approval and a smile to affi rm your pleasure towards them is suffi cient to keep a good relationship. If not, then continue to move towards them, casually giving them the chance to amend their ways by choice.

• Once you have arrived near their desks, your presence will add to the reason to stop messing around and start to get control of themselves a little better. Ask them a question such as ‘Are you OK for the start of the lesson?’ Your tone should be one of calmness and with no hint of annoyance – just very plain and ordinary.

The mention of ‘lesson’ along with the question regarding how they are and the tone will all help them to engage their thinking brain and take control. The first to start to focus should be thanked, followed by a comment such as ‘It’s good to have you here. Let’s hope we have a good lesson as I think you will do well in this.’

You will notice that we are not telling them to behave, what they should do or what you want them to do. All those things are obvious and they know them. All you are interested in doing is helping them start to control themselves now that the lesson has begun. You are also giving them an opportunity to work together to calm down, and you will see who is the leader and follower within the group. This will be useful if you have to talk to them again.

Peer pressure and acceptance are very important in teenage years, and copying each other is a very good bonding experience for them. One person on their own messing about is very rare and often a sign of other issues. A group messing about is typical and also self-motivating, so when the leader of the group starts to calm down the others tend to follow.

You should be able to spot the ‘ring leaders’ in any class, although they might not see themselves as such, and it is good to work with them to develop good social skills. The behaviour is not to be seen as ‘bad’. It is just inappropriate and so should be tackled as such. Once they are calm, and later in the lesson, you can talk to them about their start and ask them how they think they could do it better the next time – what things could they do to help calm themselves down so that you can start the lesson more quickly?

Behaviour indicators
Inappropriate behaviour may be linked to high spirits but it may also be an avoidance technique so as not to have to start the lesson. How many times have you done things simply to avoid having to do something that you don’t want to do? Try to develop skills in looking for the reasons for a chosen behaviour rather than categorising people negatively.

Low confidence, feelings of inadequacy or lack of sleep could all be contributing factors and therefore should be taken into consideration when dealing with poor behaviour. If you don’t, then the poor behaviour will keep recurring. I will discuss in a later chapter some of the problems that you might encounter in relation to special needs, and sometimes students can go under the radar because the teacher’s focus has been diverted towards more obvious issues. Don’t assume that every child has been assessed and everything is known about them. You may be the first one to notice something and it won’t hurt to see if others have noticed anything different or looked at other possible reasons for a child’s behaviour.

The body of the lesson
An engaging start is important and is also a good time to, if possible, bring in elements of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC ) of pupils. This is looked for within lessons and forms part of Ofsted’s criteria for outstanding lessons. The importance of making it relevant must be remembered and people are usually very happy to talk about their own experiences and opinions. Helping students to challenge their own preconceived ideas about a topic is a good starting point.

The important thing is to get the lesson correctly differentiated, engaging and relevant, with clear learning outcomes and measurable targets for students to be working towards.

The more you concentrate on these points, the fewer problems you will have within your lesson.

You will notice very quickly if you are not meeting those criteria as the attention of the class will easily get drawn away from you and the subject, as discussed in Chapter 4.

Critical questions
(i) How much do you consider that the clothes you wear affect your students?
(ii) How important to you is where you stand and start the lesson?
(iii) Do you think that you have a set method for moving around the class, perhaps
avoiding some students or spending too long with others? Is this influenced more by a few poorly behaved students than you considering the needs of the whole class?
(iv) Have you got into lazy habits such as sitting at your desk and having the students come to you, or sitting on the edge of tables?
(v) How do you use your tone to affect the classroom?
(vi) Do you use a calm voice to achieve calm or a loud shouting voice to achieve calm?
(vii) Think back over your last difficult lesson. Try to remember the kind of tone you were using. Was it being influenced by your emotions and the situation in the classroom?

Chapter 5 Emotionally Intelligent Relationships p73-p76

Understanding and Supporting Behaviour through Emotional Intelligence

We are very pleased to have published our first title for secondary teachers, Understanding and Supporting Behaviour through Emotional Intelligence – A Critical Guide for Secondary Teachers by Victor Allen. This is a subject which is of relevance to all teachers, regardless of what subject they specialise in  and therefore we hope this book will help teachers to take a fresh look at the subject and give them a greater understanding of behaviour types and the latest findings.

We will be publishing a few ‘tasters’ this week and this particular extract comes from chapter 1: Where are we now and how have we got here?

Critical reflection
Entering into a working environment that has a dramatic impact on the academic, emotional and physical development of young people obviously requires you to be a subject specialist, but it also necessitates you taking on the role of an effective communicator, guide and leader.

Throughout your teaching career, you will be required to manage your own feelings and reflect on the academic but also the emotional outcomes of your lessons in terms of yourself and your students. This will be vital in terms of learning from your experiences and adjusting your teaching accordingly.

What is reflection?
In Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Stephen Brookfield ( 1995 ) wrote that the goal was to develop an increased awareness of your teaching from as many different vantage points as possible.

Brookfield proposes four lenses that you can use in the process of critical reflection:

  1.  the autobiographical;
  2.  the students’ eyes;
  3.  your colleagues’ experiences;
  4.  the theoretical literature.

Examining each of these perspectives provides the foundation for good teaching and the means to become an excellent teacher.

You can build on the autobiographical focus, or self-reflection, by focusing on your previous experiences as a learner and on your experiences as a teacher. Don’t limit your reflection to the academic aspect alone, but reflect on your personal and emotional development during your time with your students.

It is with this ability to reflect and develop the skills of an emotionally competent teacher that will support you in delivering relevant and life-changing experiences within your classroom.


During a lesson relating to the English Civil War, students had been reflecting on how propaganda literature was written with a bias towards the victors. The teacher identified an opportunity to encourage students to reflect on their relationships with each other and asked them to describe a time when someone had made up unpleasant stories about them.

A group of girls were very keen to talk about their ‘ex-friend’, and did so with the emotional tone you might expect. The teacher responded by commenting on the manner and vigour with which their views were being expressed.

The teacher then posed the question: ‘Have you ever exaggerated something a brother, sister or friend has done to make it sound worse than it actually was?’

A lively discussion ensued about what students had said to purposely ‘get others into trouble’ as well as exaggerated stories they knew had been made up about themselves.

In summing up these reflections, the teacher asked her class to consider why individuals go to such lengths to contrive information about others to portray them in a bad light. Answers initially centred around, ‘It’s fun’ , ‘to get others into trouble’, ‘to get my own back’. This then developed into an understanding of selfish reasons and a desire to gain vengeance, etc., alongside alternative, more appropriate patterns of behaviour and actions.

Where are we now and how have we got here?

Returning to the English Civil War, by reflecting on their own experiences, students were then more clearly able to consider the motives behind the propaganda and the subsequent effect on others.

This shift away from the initial lesson subject-matter had allowed students to develop aspects of their emotional intelligence, not through being told what to think and do, but by being guided towards deciding themselves between less and more appropriate actions. Not all learning situations provide such excellent openings, but seeking out opportunities such as this is facilitating emotional learning, without detracting from any academic learning intentions.

The impact of your own experiences
Later chapters focus on the development of your own emotional intelligence, alongside your leadership skills and qualities.

However, at this stage I ask you to reflect on your understanding of the impact your own upbringing has had upon you as the unique individual you are now.

Think about the things you consider important and why they are important to you. Where did the understanding of their importance come from?

It is so important to consider how you view your students and how you emotionally engage with them.

Critical questions
(i) Think about the groups that you absolutely love teaching. Why is this the case? What characteristics do these students demonstrate and how does that relate to your personal experiences?

(ii) Think about the students that you perhaps struggle a little more with and ask yourself the same questions.

(iii) What emotional competencies are the first groups showing and what competencies are the second groups not showing?

Now consider addressing the competencies you feel are lacking within the teaching groups you find most difficult. This doesn’t mean pointing it out and telling them. Your students will need alternatives to consider, brought to their attention through reflective coaching and positive experiences.

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