Category: purple cow

A brief reflection on the NPQML.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Seth Godin – Linchpins.

I recently submitted my evidence for the NPQML qualification and thought it may be useful to share my experience. The qualification is a middle leaders qualification which looks at the challenges of being a middle leader from a variety of perspectives.

Download my completed evidence form here.

The qualification requires participants to undertake a school based project. I was already involved in a number of whole school projects so decided to use something that I was already doing and felt passionately about. My project looked at creating more opportunities for staff to engage with effective, meaningful CPD across the school. For me I don’t see this as work but as something I really enjoy doing – finding innovative and creative ways to engage staff with CPD with intent of improving experiences for students beyond just those that I teach. This is my art.

My project had a clear trajectory.

  1. Assemble a group of great teachers.
  2. Plan and deliver a 50 minute CPD marketplace session.
  3. Plan and deliver a school INSET day (each member of the team would deliver a workshop).
  4. Plan and deliver a TeachMeet.

I collected evidence as I went along with some of the highlights below:

Poster for TeachMeet

Poster for TeachMeet

Meeting Sir Michael Wilshaw and Bradley Symmons.

Meeting Sir Michael Wilshaw and Bradley Symmons.

First keynote at a NET event in Bracknell with Roy Blatchford and Lucy Crehen.

First keynote at a NET event in Bracknell with Roy Blatchford and Lucy Crehen.

An example of a CPD newsletter created as part of the project.

An example of a CPD newsletter created as part of the project.

The one key element that made the project worthwhile were the people. The group of teachers I managed to get together and work with were (and still are) truly remarkable people – doing everything in their power to help young people. It was a real inspiration for me to work with this group and made me want to work even harder and take on more challenges. The people I met at the away days during the course were also a great source of inspiration and challenge. One of the best parts of the course was meeting people outside of my school and talking about teaching, learning and the challenges of middle leadership. Teachers talking about teaching.

My advice to people interested in enrolling on the course – find something you are truly passionate about that will make a positive change and then make it happen. If you can’t get on the course do it anyway. Don’t do the course for the sake of getting a certificate – do it because you want to make a difference. Find you art and make it happen.

Shifting gears

Image via @gapingvoid -

Image via @gapingvoid –

Inspired by Zoe Elder’s post – ‘Why we continue to accept the challenge’ and Mark Anderson’s post ‘Be happy,’ here is a quick post with the start of a new term in mind.

2013 was a remarkable year. 2014 will be better. It’s time to shift gears.

Four tips to help you make this year even better:

1. Keep exploring.

2. Connect with others.

3. Share your discoveries.

4. Deepen your understanding.

Remember, you’re only human but you make an incredible difference.




2013 in no particular order…

1. Remarkable colleagues.

I work with some remarkable people. People who think good is not good enough and will go the extra mile for their students and fellow teachers. These people are remarkable in many ways and continue to inspire me to do and be better everyday. Check out a few of them on Twitter: @mr_bunker_edu, @mrtleahy, @artedu_kheath, @sporteredu, @mrgillenglish, @mrdaymentmaths, @gwilliams195, @jonericjones, @dominichoudhury, @bristolbrunel

2. Safe is risky.

To provide the best possible outcomes for the young people we teach we have to provide remarkable experiences for them. In order to do this you have to be prepared to take risks in the classroom. Great teaching is not a ladder to climb, rather a jungle gym to explore. 

3. #neverstoplearning

I was successful in securing a leadership honorarium at my school in September to drive the improvement of teaching and learning. Since then I have set up a small team of pedagogy leaders and created the brand #neverstoplearning ( to share remarkable ideas around teaching, learning and leadership in schools. A teach meet is also in the pipeline for 2013!

4. Leadership is not a position, it is a choice.

This is my 5th year as a teacher (4 of them as a programme leader of Computing) and I’m beginning to understand what it means to be a leader. It’s not a title. It’s about leading by example, high expectations, good habits, strong moral purpose and growing other leaders. 

5. Computing.

This is one of my passions and I love teaching it! It has involved me having to work hard to ‘re-fresh’ my skill set & subject knowledge, but that does not feel like work because one of my other passions is learning.

6. Teach Meets.

I’ve attended a few teach meets this year and I am convinced it’s the best CPD out there. Created for teachers by teachers. No hidden agendas. I always walk away feeling inspired, more motivated and with a long list of ideas to explore further. 

7. Reading.

Simon Sinek. Seth Godin. Malcolm Gladwell. Chip & Dan Heath. Hugh Mcleod. Doug Lemov. John Hattie. Jamie Smart. Ken Segall. David Didau. Hywel Roberts. Zoe Elder. 

8. Distributed leadership works.

I work in school full of leaders. The forward thinking SLT have dissolved more power to the people closet to the action. They have invested time and effort into growing more leaders and as a result there is much more purpose and collective accountability about what our school does. I’m excited to see where 2014 takes us.

9. Make more art.

A realisation I’ve had this year. If you view something as work you tend to find ways to do less of it. If you view something as art you tend to find ways to do more of it.

10. Ultra running.

Running is part of my life. It helps me to achieve clarity and feel good. Ultra running tests me physically and mentally. This year I completed my longest ever continuous run – 54 miles in one go, as well as a few other shorter ultra marathons, marathons, half marathons and 10k’s. 

11. Students.

They’re incredible.

12. Twitter.

It’s the ultimate staff room. Lots of interesting debate, ideas and an overwhelming willingness to share. Teaching is an emotional, people orientated art form and without the support, kindness and gift giving of fellow professionals I don’t think the profession would grow. So I thank you Twitter for connecting me with many marvellous artists! 

13. Next steps.

I recently attended my first interview for the role of Assistant Principal. Didn’t get the job but learnt an awful lot! Why Assistant Principal? I want to influence more students than just the ones I teach. I like to be challenged. I like to connect, collaborate and work with other people. I like to learn from other people and help them to do their best possible work. I have a passion for teaching and learning that I want to share. I’m devoted to meaningful work. 

2014 in no particular order…

1. Keep exploring pedagogy.

2. Take more (measured) risks in the classroom.

3. Blog / reflect more often.

4. Listen more.

5. Read more – looking forward to Simon Sinek’s ‘Leaders eat last.’

6. Deliver a teach meet in Bristol (keep diaries clear for 20th March 2014).

7. Encourage more people to share remarkable ideas through
8. Run 100km in one go and complete 5 ultra marathons.

9. Keep expectations high. 

10. Continue to work through Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach like a champion’ book, trying out different techniques in the classroom (if you don’t have this book get it!).

11. Organise and run CPD sessions with pedagogy leaders.

12. Exercise everyday.

13. Eat less chocolate biscuits.

14. Never stop learning.


NPQML Blog post #1 – My most positive leadership contribution.


In my short time as a teacher my formal leadership opportunities have been limited but that has not stopped me from leading. Leadership for me is not about a formal title but about building positive habits, inspiring others and leading by example. Leadership is about doing simple things that enrich people and organisations.

I try to make a positive contribution everyday I am in school, but for the purpose of this blog I will look at a recent example – coaching teachers. Working with colleagues and leading them through change to improve their practice can be daunting. Using the Heath brothers ‘Switch’ framework I was able to motivate colleagues by returning to our moral purpose, the students. Remembering that everything we do as teachers should be geared towards improving student outcomes. I was also able to set clear goals ‘not below a 2’ and then support colleagues to achieve that goal. To do this I shrank the change. If a colleague was struggling with several aspects of their lesson, reminding the, of that would not help. So we started by focusing on just the structure of a lesson. Letting the men-tee feel success and mastery of just one aspect before moving onto the next area of improvement. This extends the coaching cycle but makes for a greater chance of success.

I also used Seth Godin’s ‘purple cow’ analogy of trying to do remarkable things. Once a colleague had satisfied the ‘2’ criteria during a lesson observation I would encourage them to to take risks and be remarkable. Safe is risky. ‘Very good’ is bad. We must be remarkable! To help colleagues achieve this I invited them to observe my lessons and we would jointly observe other outstanding teachers in the school To get experience of what outstanding lessons look and feel like. Leading by example is a key element of leadership.

To to summarise I believe leadership is not a title or pay grade but a habit. My most positive contributions have come from influencing others through striving to be remarkable in everything I do.

The ‘Superman effect’ and ‘Purple cows’

I recently watched a video of Aral Balkan speaking about something he calls the ‘Superman effect’ which made me immediately think about lesson planning and designing remarkable experiences for the students I teach. If you haven’t seen it watch it now:

In the video @aral talks about something he calls the ‘Superman effect’ in design. How design is an art form that empowers, amuse and delights  people. Great designers have the power to changes lives and give users exceptionally remarkable experiences that make them feel like a ‘superhero’ – the ‘Superman effect.’

Aral goes on to say…

Our lives are a string of experiences. Experiences with people and experiences with things. And we, as designers — as the people who craft experiences — we have a profound responsibility to make every experience as beautiful, as comfortable, as painless, as empowering, and as delightful as possible.

Now read the quote again but replace the word ‘designers’ with ‘teachers.’ Perhaps as teachers we have a duty to make students uncomfortable and allow them to struggle in order to learn, but the rest of the quote really rings true with me. As teachers we have to recognise that every interaction we have with young people is an opportunity to have a positive impact upon them. Teachers are artists and lessons are our art. Being passionate about our subjects mixed with a continued desire to improve and develop our pedagogy is key to providing the ‘Superman effect’ for our students. How can we make students feel like super hero’s in our lessons? We need to make them feel more excited about entering our classrooms rather than leaving them. Next time you’re planning a lesson consider the ‘user experience’ and make it remarkable.

In Aral’s extended version of his talk (see below) he also talks about how design gets compromised when companies have misguided CEO’s who seek to dictate the journey to success and quite often get it wrong. How true is this in schools? How many times have SLT implemented policies / procedures with little or no consultation from staff (thankfully this doesn’t happen in my school, but I’m sure we’ve all heard a horror story in our time…)? The way to unleash potential is to ensure that leadership is distributed across the school and that power is dissolved to all staff.  Let the people who are closet to the action have a say in the critical decisions, empower them to lead.

Aral Balkan: Superheroes & Villains in Design from Thinking Digital on Vimeo.

Seth Godin talks about being remarkable in his book ‘Purple Cow.’ He talks about truly remarkable products / ideas and people or as he calls them ‘Purple cows.’ I believe teachers have a responsibility to be remarkable and provide remarkable experiences  for their students. ‘Good enough’ or ‘that’ll do’ or even ‘Very good’ is a one ticket to mediocrity. It’s not remarkable. You are an artist with talent waiting to be unleashed. Be creative. Safe is risky. Don’t be boring. Be remarkable in everything you do.