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CPD, Outstanding Lessons

Next Step to Outstanding

In a previous post “Consistently Good to Outstanding” I described my views about outstanding teaching following interviews with a number of teachers at St. Mary’s Catholic College, Blackpool who had been consistently graded outstanding in lesson observations.

I finished with these thoughts:

  • Outstanding is not simply doing more good things it’s doing different.  It involves a mindset shift.
  • Absolute clarity of how knowledge and understanding are vertically integrated in your subject and helping students to work at a conceptual level.  The teacher needs to be working there first.
  • Keeping the lesson plan “loose” so that you can respond to the learner as s/he makes their learning visible to you at the beginning, during and end of lessons.   

The following table and the thinking behind it attracted quite a bit of interest:


Learning Gains

Lesson structure

Focuses On

Satisfactory (RI)



The activities




The lesson plan




The learner

I’ve set myself the challenge of trying to develop a CPD programme to help teachers move from good to outstanding “#OutstandingIn10+10”.

10 Out of 10

I want to put a note of realism in here, this is not about producing outstanding teachers but rather helping them take the next step on an evolutionary journey.  Working with teachers who have consistently been graded as good, and are utterly frustrated that they have never got the coveted outstanding lesson grade, I want to see whether in twenty weeks (10+10) they can achieve an outstanding lesson with a bit of structured support.

This blog and the process is fraught with problems, I’m going to acknowledge them but move on regardless.  They cannot be allowed to paralyse me into no action.  Dylan Wiliam has spoken about the need to have six observers cross referencing their judgements to gain a level of reliability in grading lessons by observation.  This makes sense but isn’t a reason for not supporting colleagues, I just need to recognise the process is far from perfect. 

The actual notion of taking a continuous variable, think of this as measuring the quality of a lesson from 1-100, but then treating it as a discontinuous variable, only four grades – inadequate, requires improvement, good and outstanding, is clearly madness.  If you think about the difference between a lesson that is just good compared to one at the top end of good it is far greater than that between a top end good lesson and one that just makes outstanding.  I acknowledged this but staff still deserve help and support to become better teachers.  To not help and support is even greater madness.

Some scientists suggest the process of evolution is very dynamic, that is, there are significant periods of relatively slow evolutionary changes followed by short periods of dynamic change.  What I want to try to produce is one of these short periods of dynamic change that will then require an extended period of slow evolutionary change.  The first outstanding lesson observation is followed by the long, hard years of deliberate practice that leads to consistently outstanding teaching and then the outstanding teacher whose work is reflected in the outstanding outcomes of their students.
Ross McGill’s blog post #GoodinTen – Requires Improvement CPD Programme is the starting point for my work.  I’m currently enjoying doing some collaborative work with Ross and I’m of the age that it makes me smile to think you can collaborate with someone who is not in the same room as you!  I’m also going to try my first bit of collaborative blogging by later on asking for suggestions to add to a CPD programme.

Outstanding Teachers Think Differently

Absolute clarity of how knowledge and understanding are vertically integrated in your subject and helping students to work at a conceptual level. 

The graphic below is my attempt to capture the thinking of outstanding teachers.  They focus on the learning first and foremost.

Outstanding Teaching & Learning Planner @LeadingLearner

Starting with the big picture they have absolute clarity about where they want the learning to go.  They often work backwards from this point to identify the key learning points for students, the “stickability” bit.  You can read more about this, So what is #Stickability? by @TeacherToolkit and @Head_StMarys” (@head_stmarys is my original twitter handle that I now use only for school tweeting).  To emphasise this point about the teacher being totally clear about the learning I have included a section on challenging learning gains, breaking this down into: knowledge and understanding, subject procedural skills and attributes & skills of a learner.  These will be familiar to staff at St. Mary’s and I would recommend that you look at the SOLO Taxonomy as a way of organising your thinking about knowledge and understanding.  All of our outstanding teachers referred to it as a tool they use.  Two blog posts that might help are:

Whilst this seems rather pedantic it will form a key part of the programme.  Teachers must be absolutely clear about the gains in learning they are seeking as an outcome of their teaching until this is second nature for them.  It is for outstanding teachers.

Outstanding Teachers Work Differently

Keeping the lesson plan “loose” so that you can respond to the learner as s/he makes their learning visible to you at the beginning, during and end of lessons.

The next section looks at making students’ learning visible.  Teachers need to be clear about what success looks like for students who are making the required gains in learning and so do the students.  This requires a teacher to think through both success criteria and some very efficient ways of seeing what students’ had learnt.  Their assessment techniques were very simple, unobtrusive and permitted the lesson to keep flowing.

QUICK RANT: I want to start a national campaign to get rid of traffic lights in Assessment for Learning.  I wasn’t a belligerent or awkward student rather I was pretty compliant most of the time.  However, with five minutes to go to break, and a game of football with my mates to look forward to, the idea I would ever give anything other than the “green light” would be ridiculous.  Risk an amber or red and be invited to stay behind for further explanations, no chance!

The last bit is to look at the flow of the lesson, not too detailed as you may need to change the plan or go through various elements at a different pace to what you expected.  Outstanding teachers focus on the learner and respond to their learning.

Pedagogical Toolkit

Outstanding Teaching & Learning Toolkit @LeadingLearner

This is deliberately blank.  Outstanding teachers keep the lesson plan loose.  Just a few simple branches about possible different strategies: teacher led, peer to peer (group or pair work, on-line collaboration, peer assessment), favourite strategies and crucially ways of making students’ learning visible.  Nothing prescriptive, nothing required just great pedagogy of their choice.

It is important to recognise that outstanding teachers have honed their skills through deliberate practice.  I’m wondering whether they possibly use fewer strategies than good teachers but use them much more effectively.  A key part of the CPG Programme #OustandingIn10+10 must be teachers choosing effective, proven strategies to work an and hone through effective practice.


The first ten weeks of the CPD programme is going to involve some shared lesson observations, facilitated sessions around the thinking behind and the use of the two simple tools above and starting to practice the methodology with one chosen class.

Since I’m hoping to work with three teachers, my intention in the second ten weeks is to get them to work as a teacher learning community to support each other on their evolutionary journey.

I’m hoping to possibly do some collaborative work with Ross, @TeacherToolkit, to customise the planner and pedagogical toolkit so it may be more widely used and also to pull on his experience of the #GoodInTen CPD programme to build this one in more detail.  He may be too busy but here’s hoping.

I want to include a series of blog posts that teachers involved in the programme will be required to read to extend their thinking.  I have mentioned a few above and others in the “Consistently Good to Outstanding” and have started a list:

I would be interested in your help and thoughts about what other blog posts you would suggest are included.  There is going to be some great stuff out there I simply haven’t seen or have seen and forgotten.  Please leave me a comment.  If a lot of people leave suggestions I simply won’t be able to include them all but if you wanted to replicate the CPD programme in your own school then you can obviously chose the posts yourself.

If you would like a copy of the planner or toolkit please find the link below:

Outstanding Teaching and Learning @LeadingLearner

I’ve now turned this into a CPD Programme #OutstandingIn10Plus10.



19 thoughts on “Next Step to Outstanding

  1. I’ll have no problem working something out – but will be a job for late August 🙂

    Posted by @TeacherToolkit | June 28, 2013, 7:33 pm
  2. http://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/great-teaching/

    This post by @joe__kirby may be of interest.

    Posted by Nick Hart | June 29, 2013, 9:54 am
  3. I really like your take on the outstanding teaching and learning planner – have you posted a copy anywhere?

    Posted by mark | July 2, 2013, 11:44 am
    • It should be on the post right at the bottom. Hope to be blogging out a CPD Plan very shortly that I will be trialling with staff next term

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | July 2, 2013, 12:06 pm
      • Sorry, should have seen it. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Really liked your post on SOLO – it is such a deceptively complex framework.

        Posted by mark | July 2, 2013, 11:36 pm
  4. Flexibility of thought and the ability to change tactics in the lesson is certainly a difficult skill for many colleagues-good luck with your CPD! An outstanding lesson obs means a great deal but, of course, represents less than 1% of the overall contribution to student learning-see Kev Bartle’s blog re quality of teaching-should we as leaders be encouraging colleagues to consider their overall contribution to the quality of learning in the school e.g. contribution to supporting the devpt of others, residuals for cohorts, dialogue, comments received for peer obs rather than grades, positive comments from students etc. rather than 1 observation grade? I know where you’re coming from and why [and I realise that your CPD is much more than a one off lesson!] but the whole obsession we all have with grade stuff is making me think and worry too much! I’m trying to move away from them and think of ways to measure/celebrate the whole ‘outstanding teacher’ . An impossible dream perhaps!

    Posted by david jones | July 2, 2013, 10:25 pm
    • Dear David,

      Thanks for the comment and if that is Meols Cop in Southport, hello from a fellow sandgrounder.
      I enjoy reading Kev’s blogs posts. Put your thoughts and the post from Kev at one end of a journey as your thinking is spot on. I gave a health warning in the post about the issue of seeing the outstanding lesson grade as everything rather than the first step on a journey, so you are right to voice your concerns. If I can go further back in the journey, how do we help staff move from good to outstanding – we need to help them take the first step, as leaders we are people developers. Teachers who are consistently outstanding don’t simply do more good things – their mindset and approach is different. I blogged on Consistently Good to Outstanding with some thoughts here:

      This sits within a larger approach to Improving Teaching and you can see our attempt at a Teaching Improvement Programme here:

      Keep thinking and worrying (just a little bit) – it’s our job.



      Posted by ExecutiveHT | July 3, 2013, 8:04 am
      • Thanks Stephen-we do something similar for our Leading Learner internal accreditation and I’m always tinkering with lesson observation criteria too! I will move more radically again in September with the threat of impending Ofsted removed for some time to more subject specific obs for each dept based on the Ofsted subject specific criteria and what it is that each dept decides constitutes outstanding practice [hopefully some of the big school issues!] All of our observations are in triads and the ensuing discussions and feed-forward advice are based on what we decided are important for our learners. Ironically, although I prefer not to talk about grades, I’ve got 3 obs this morning and I bet that at least 2 of them are brave are enough to say at the end of our triad discussion-“so what grade would Ofsted have given me Dave!”

        Posted by david jones | July 3, 2013, 8:55 am
  5. Thank You Stephen – this is great stuff – it is great to see something that I’ve unconsciously done (after about 20yrs practice) made explicit.

    What might make this even more powerful for some of us more visual/ concrete learners – and potentially the staff you are helping (as well as my sister who is in her training year) – a view over the shoulder of one of your outstanding teachers as they plan. Followed by a video of the lesson with a commentary version like the ones for feature films.

    I know – not much to ask! 🙂 And what an amazing potential learning resource. Thanks again. Marie

    Posted by mariegoodwyn | October 9, 2014, 4:41 pm
    • Thanks for this Marie. Not sure how the teacher would feel about being videoed. If you want to have a look on the blog for DIY Teaching CPD there are a set of resources to download that your sister may find useful. It’s a series of five and so far I’ve published three.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | October 9, 2014, 4:51 pm
      • Perhaps you and Ross Mcgill could collaborate on something like this. I’m sure either of you would easily be able to demonstrate the process of planning and delivering an outstanding lesson.

        In terms of ‘stickiness’ would that not be modelling all the good teaching practice that you both so ably write about in your blogs.

        As Benjamin Franklin said ” “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” You could even get learners to try to spot the outstanding features in the video with no commentary before they hear the teachers commentary.

        It would be lovely to see you walking your talk so to speak!

        Posted by mariegoodwyn | October 9, 2014, 6:30 pm


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