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Opinion19th September 2017

Mark. Plan. Teach: Tried and tested tips from @TeacherToolkit

Ross Morrison McGill is better known as @TeacherToolkit, the most followed educator on Twitter in the UK and founder of one of the most popular education websites in the country. He is an award-winning blogger, author and teacher with more than 20 years of teaching and school leadership experience in some of the most challenging schools in London. In December 2015, he was nominated for The Sunday Times ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain 2015‘. He has just published a new book, Mark. Plan. Teach, which includes tried-and-tested ideas to be implemented in the classroom.

I wrote Mark. Plan. Teach in such a way that it could be read from start to finish to mirror the teaching process. It’s essentially my field notes from working in the profession over the last three decades. In the book, Dr Tim O’Brien, Visiting Fellow in Psychology and Human Development at UCL Institute of Education, focuses on particular aspects of my ideas and offers perspectives that consider the psychological processes behind them.

This book is for every teacher, particularly for those working in challenging schools. I hope that by sharing some of my tried-and-tested strategies and supporting these with evidence and psychological perspectives, you will be tempted to apply some of them in your own classroom and keep good teaching at the heart of what every teacher needs to do: Mark. Plan. Teach. The book can be used as a training manual in professional development sessions to equip every teacher with classroom strategies for the very next day. So, if you’ve not yet thought about reading Mark. Plan. Teach, here are some useful ‘back to school’ tips I advocate throughout the book.

Tip one: Never be afraid of saying ‘no’

There will be demands from above and below and you’ll need to manage this. There will always be something extra to do or a request to become a ‘champion’; to be part of a new group or initiative, rarely with no time or money allocated. Be precious with your time, but seek out opportunities if you want to invest in your potential – only if everything else is ticking over nicely.

Tip two: Stick to the cyclical model of mark-plan-teach

After all, this is what every teacher does best and if you can do those things well, it will improve on other aspects of your school life. Fail to manage something simple such as lesson plans? Then you’ll find yourself on the back-foot, kicking off your lessons little more than one step ahead of the kids. That can only lead to two things: anxiety on your part and a dip in standards over time.

Tip three: Focus on the students

They will ‘find the gaps’, so don’t give them an inch. Keep your expectations high. Always follow up and for goodness sake, please follow your school’s behaviour policy. Be consistent, persistent and insistent.

Tip four: Pace yourself

Your work will never be done. Look after yourself and remember, you too have a family and a life outside of school. Do not feel guilty about going home at 4pm and if someone ‘questions you’ on your way out the door, respond with “Don’t you worry about my wellbeing. I’ve got everything under control…”

Tip five: Get connected

Log in to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and whatever else for professional reasons. There are thousands of teachers sharing advice, exposing nonsense and supporting one another. The people I have met and the relationships and connections I have formed over the past 10 years have all been down to Twitter. More importantly, it has not only kept me out of my silo, it has challenged my ideas and work, exposed myths, allowed me to share school ideas and receive ‘instant feedback’. It’s often quicker than waiting for a meeting and/or feedback from colleagues who are in your school! The beauty of social media is that it can be one giant staffroom with people dipping in and out when it suits them.

One thing to remember is that context is everything and I am not suggesting that any of these ideas will work perfectly in all school settings and circumstances. But I wanted to share every ounce of knowledge I have with all of you. I hope if you do get your hands on a copy of the book, that you enjoy the read.

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