Think Box

Fail Forwards

I wish I had created this phrase but I didn’t. I can’t even remember who I borrowed it from to give them credit. However, it became a very important part of the culture of the schools I ran, and not just for the students but for the adults as well.

Fear of failure is built into our education system. Nobody is allowed to fail, from the instinctive desire to shield young people from failure, built into the DNA of teachers, to the more deliberate, pernicious and systemic use of fear in our accountability framework.

As a result we are hardwired to ignore the first principle of learning - being prepared to fail.

I have witnessed first hand what happens to people, adult and child, when you take that fear away. It is like you are unshackling potential.

Let me tell you this story.

We had an inspector in the school and she came into a GCSE class I was teaching. She went over to a group of girls and asked what they were doing. The girls replied that they were redrafting a GCSE question they had completely misunderstood. The inspector said that this must be frustrating. Without hesitation, the girls replied, “No, Mr McShane has always told us failure is the first step on the road to success, we are failing forward.”

For the adults, accepting failure as part of growth was a more difficult concept. They had to unlearn a great deal. This takes time and patience. It is like pushing the boulder up hill. But there is a point when you go over the top and the boulder of high trust takes on a momentum of its own.

I had occasion when a more senior person to me told my governors the positive staff view of leadership was only because I let them do what they wanted. How wrong that person was. Challenge was more accepted because it happened in the right way. It happened in coaching conversations. Adopting the concept of fail forward also allowed us to put the professional back into the profession. Self determination backed up by high trust unleashes people no matter what age. This is a very abridged version of creating high trust, self determined environments.

If the person who coined the phrase is reading this, thank you.

See the original post on LinkedIn

Planning for Freedom

Unlike yesterday’s Fail Forwards this one is my phrase. We made a conscious and deliberate act of planning to give students freedom with their learning.

I always say I am an expert in nothing. I have just been prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. To fail forwards. But this one has taken time to perfect. When I say perfect I mean perfect for now. This philosophy has been important when developing our Learner Focused Learning pedagogy.

The starting point in Planning For Freedom is the recognition that all teaching approaches are not the same. When you change approach you have to learn how to do it well. This takes time especially if you have to unlearn in the process. What about the students? Aren’t you experimenting with their futures? You know this snd you mitigate it. You start with students who have time to develop new skills and approaches and not with those who are about to sit examinations.

Planning for Freedom is about creating a better balance between the outcome of learning and the process of learning. It is about allowing learners more freedom through self determination whilst maintaining direction of travel, pace and rigour. Unlike the skills v knowledge nonsense or the trad v prog battle lines Planning for Freedom focuses on the how not the what. It is based in reality you can’t learn skills without knowledge, you can’t be truly knowledgeable without being skilful. You can’t learn something new without being instructed or trained and you can’t become expert in something without internalising it and making it personal to you. Planning for Freedom is more about the pacing of this journey and making it personal to each learner.

Planning for Freedom also incorporates individual performance - the metacognitive understanding of oneself as a learner. Developing an understanding of your own attributes for learning and managing oneself in the learning process. This element is supported and challenged through a culture of coaching.

Planning for Freedom requires a very clear yet flexible structure. The Learning has to be readily and freely available. This is where technology helps. The learning is readily available online, instruction happens online, think about it, students can go back to your instruction anytime they need to, parents can see it and talk to their child about it in the safety of their own home. It’s a no brainer! As a teacher you have to be happy with your learners being in different places both academically snd even physically. This means you have to organise you learning differently. This is the scary bit. But it works.

What you will find is you have time to manage this because other things are happening. The biggest thing that teachers who have become skilled in this observe time and time again is how they have more time to meet the learner at the point of need. The spin off from this is more focused learners.

See the original post on LinkedIn

This excellent article by Dr James Mannion explains clearly and succinctly why there needs to be change in the education system. Our CEO, Chris McShane, will be speaking at the conference about the power of coaching in education. You can book tickets for the conference here.

Scrolling through Twitter as usual one morning, I came across a report from the Times Education Commission, calling for a radical overhaul to the British Education system. "Hallelujah!" I thought, "it's about time someone listened to the many teachers and education experts who have been saying this not just since the pandemic, but for years prior to this.

Reading the report, there is a lot of sense in there. Removing high stakes examinations at 16; creating a British Baccalaureate broadening the choices learners take in Years 12 and 13; bringing vocational qualifications in line with academic ones in terms of prestige; fostering entrepreneurship and creativity within the education system, and vitally, changing the role and nature of Ofsted.

But two of the recommendations resonated with me the most.

Firstly, putting the health and wellbeing of learners and teachers at the heart of the system. As all teachers and education experts know, this has to happen. Children and young people who do not have strong mental health are less resilient, less able to cope with change and pressure. If their mental health is not in a good place, we cannot expect them to be able to learn effectively and develop into strong, resilient adults. In many schools, the teaching and pastoral teams have been trying to do this for years, but they are hampered at every turn by financial restrictions and cuts, rising numbers of children and young people who need support, and time constraints due to the UK's high stakes testing system. This change MUST happen and schools MUST be supported to do it. If it is not able to become a priority for schools, as a nation, we will see significant rises in the need for mental health support in adults in the next 5 years, which will have enormous impacts on the employability of the population.

The second recommendation is one that we hear frequently being tarnished and scapegoated and that is the use of technology. The report calls for access to laptops or tablets for every child, and for greater use of AI to better "personalise learning for individuals, reduce teacher workload and better prepare young people for future employment." Having worked in a through-school where we did use technology to make learning personal, I am 100% on-board with this recommendation. We found that using technology did reduce teacher workload, and it gave us far more time to spend with individual learners, supporting them at their point of need. Was it easy to change to this way of working? No! Did we have hiccups and hit brick walls along the way? Yes! But when we achieved it, wow! The difference made for our learners, our staff and our parents was fantastic, and the culture and atmosphere at the school was constantly buzzing! It was this experience that led me to leave the classroom for the time being and set up Learning 3D Limited with Chris and Rachel. Working with schools to support their desire to change their practices and enhance the learning experience for their students and staff is as rewarding as being in the classroom.

I hope the Time Education Commission's Report gets taken seriously by the people at the DfE. I hope that we see a seismic change to education soon, because, at the moment, there are too many children and young people for whom it is not working. And I hope more schools look at the TEC Report and think about how they could take on some of the recommendations themselves as a school.

Read the full Times Education Commission's Final Report 2022

Missed the 2022 Education White Paper and SEND Review? Read the summaries below

The Start of Something New

2022 started with a bang – a new job, a new challenge, a new opportunity.

After 16 years, I have moved from the classroom to the boardroom and am working fulltime for educational consultancy, Learning 3D.

Learning 3D’s philosophy is to bring education kicking and screaming into the 21st century and to help and empower schools and colleges realise their visions for their students and staff.

One of my first tasks was to work with The New School, a new type of school, based in London, who are on “a mission to positively change the way we educate children in the UK”. The New School have decided to move away from the traditional approaches to learning and are doing something different - enabling students to have more ownership in their learning. We explored ideas for starting small - small changes that can be made to the way we deliver learning to enable students to be more in control such as using technology to allow students to revisit teaching sessions or offering choice of learning activities.

The session was incredibly positive and the energy and motivation we all got from the discussions and ideas that were flying around the room was inspiring and it got me thinking about many of the simple ideas that could be implemented into a more traditional approach.

For instance, a colleague I worked with in Year 4 used to record their teaching inputs, instantly putting them on the class Ipad so that the children could independently access the teaching input to support them in their learning.

Or, during my own personal training, I came across a couple of projects that struck me that could be incorporated into a classroom – Genius Hour, and 20% of Time – a Google-inspired idea. Both concepts are about allowing children to work on projects that they are passionate about. They are not limited to curriculum-based ideas or links (although they can be if the child’s passion takes them down that route). In the case of Genius Hour, it is for an hour a week (or a day if you have the scope to do so!) and the children present their work at the end of each hour. For the 20% of Time project, it is 20% of a period of time – a day or a week or a term, that is given over.

What could you do this term that is new or different within your classroom?

For more information about how Learning 3D can help you and your school, email us on or call 01722 441485

Time After Time...

How do you change a culture that is so ingrained, so entrenched in all of us but especially teachers? We go through an education system as children ourselves, sometimes complaining about the ridiculousness of the system, sometimes acting out at the generic-ness of our education, and then, we embark on our careers as teachers .

We truly believe that we can make a difference and we do, every single day, through words, gestures and actions; sometimes huge, sometimes so tiny they are almost imperceptible but we do make a difference to the young people that we work with, and this is something we should be proud of and celebrate on a daily basis.

But as teachers, we make very little difference to our education system - in fact, we continue to allow a model that was designed for a different century to thrive. Sure, we have introduced technology – VLE’s, Google Classroom, tablets, laptops – they have all become mainstays of the modern classroom. But the way in which education is delivered has not changed.

The rapidly changing world of work needs students who can be self-directed - who "know what to do when they don’t know what to do". The students who master this will become the leaders and entrepreneurs of the future. We need our education system to value more than just academic attainment and progress.

We need to value students’ understanding of themselves as a learner; we need to value resilience and persistence; we need to value creativity and questioning and we need to value failure and what students can learn from that failure.

So how can we, as individual teachers start to make a difference? In your classroom, start small – is it necessary to teach that topic or could you flip the classroom and instead, spend the time with the students who need stretching or supporting those who aren’t there yet? Does every student have to be in every lesson, or could some of those more able students be using flipped content to extend their learning?

Changing this culture takes guts and commitment – it will not happen overnight and it will impact on results for a time, but if we really want to move our education system into a new century, then we have to be prepared to take some risks. Be part of that revolution – be an education disrupter!

The Brick That Fell From The Wall – By Way Of Introductions...

My son and I were discussing titles for a podcast that would reflect what we are seeking to achieve in education, he said what about something from The Wall hence the title of this blog - thanks Toby!

I thought about it and I felt that this resonated for me in so many ways, both as a learner and a teacher. Christmas 1979, just turned 16, about to take my O Levels the following summer, this song appealed to my anti schooling frustration. At University it reappeared, “justify being here” an education lecturer challenged. I couldn’t it was nearly the end of my teaching career right there and then. That was until the pragmatist in me took over and give me the justification, “get the piece of paper that says you are reasonably intelligent.”

It has been like this ever since, an emotional rollercoaster of love and loathing for the profession in which I have forged a reasonably successful career. Not bad for a man who has always felt like a square peg in a round hole. I have been fortunate enough to have met great people who, in their wisdom, managed to shave enough off the square to just about fit the hole and to the pragmatic voice constantly grounding me turning that rollercoaster into vision and passion. Today the rollercoaster is called Learning 3D.

I have always described myself as an experiential learner - I need to immerse myself in a project to understand it, see it and feel it. I have always had to work hard at studying but I more than make up for that in action. The reality though is our education system does very little for the likes of me and what it does do can only be described as, not wholly positive. I remember going to a conference presented by Alistair Smith on Accelerated Learning. It was the first time somebody identified what might be going on for somebody like me. Around the same time, I read a book on the traits of entrepreneurship. Ever since I have described myself as an educational entrepreneur.

In my journey I would recognise one of those wise people - Paul Chambers. Paul has been a friend since my first day in teaching and has been my Jiminy Cricket for the past 30 years. He said once “Maccer you have some great ideas, but deliver, deliver.” I hear Paul’s voice in every challenge I take on.

Over the past thirty years I have sought to push the envelope, from day one in the profession I have had a view on how it should and could be better. I have seen myself as a system leader and taken every opportunity to be one, leading on eLearning, Initial Teacher Training, curriculum design and content and teaching and learning. I co-founded the Headteachers Roundtable - a think tank of serving headteachers who have worked together successfully to influence education policy.

I have reached a point in my career that when I don’t know what to do, I know what to do. I know I need to step out of the front line to achieve something different. What I do now is gather all the experience gained in the past 30 plus years of teaching and leadership and put it into a vehicle that will make a difference. This, is why I have founded Learning 3D.

I want Learning 3D to be a force for good in education; a disrupter with positive intent, to ensure learning is personalised to the needs of individuals; individuals being all who inhabit the learning space. I want Learning 3D to democratise learning through making it personalised, accessible and inclusive of all. I believe that people always make the difference, helping them to be the best version of themselves is at the core of Learning 3D.

We are entering a new era for the world and hopefully for education, but we have been here before. Twenty years ago, the phrase for education was 21st century learning – nineteen years in and 21st century learning is very much 20th century learning with a few bells attached. This is the advert for teaching from the DfE in 2018/19 - - what message does this give about where UK education is? When we used the phrase “21st century education”, is this advert how we envisaged it?

In my time of giving open evening speeches to parents and students I have used an adjustable spanner printed on a 3d printer, brandished my smart phone to talk about the App industry and used the video Shift Happens and the phrase “preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist”. In these speeches I not only believed in a genuine shift in education I was showing parents the shifts we had made, e.g the curriculum changes, use of technology for learning, approaches to teaching and innovations in assessment. Yet, the reality is most students still sit in rows with the teacher at the front, there is little use of technology and what is used is usually in a flat one-dimensional way. Recall is still the way in which we judge who is brightest, the teacher not the student is the centre of learning as direct instruction is considered the best way to deliver learning within a knowledge rich curriculum. Professional development is often limited or undervalued by leaders and teachers and a self-improving culture is still an anathema to many organisations.

The question then, what does a 21st century culture look like if done well? Follow the journey of Learning 3D whilst we work with partners to build the concept of 21st Century learning. For us it is limitless, personalised and accessible to all.

You can check out but you can never leave.

This is a famous line from the Eagles' song, Hotel California. Mainly about addiction. I think it summarises nicely about our education system.

What do I mean by this.

I was educated in the late 1970s and 1980s in a very traditional secondary school.

The teacher stood at the front of the class and imparted knowledge and we as the students diligently wrote our notes and learnt it by rote.

I did well because I had a focus of needing to get good results to achieve my aspirational career as a doctor. I adapted to work that way and could learn and regurgitate when needed in exams.

I only knew one way and so chose a traditional medical school. Initially 2 years of knowledge based lectures. No no exposure to patients and application to our future roles.

What I realise now, 31 years on from starting medical school, is how much I now apply that knowledge in my day to day practice.

How amazing it would have been to have been applying that knowledge from day one.

I know now that there is a better way. Even 31 years on as an experienced GP trainer, I am seeing the same problems in my trainee that I faced all that time ago.

They are supposed to be adult learners and my role is to facilitate that learning. Yet what the reality is, is that they expect the pedagogical model and for us to tell them what to know and what to do.

There is a better way and that is the Learning 3D way.

Learner centred approach with a AI augmented self directed learning and teachers being true coaches and facilitators.