This is what I think

//This is what I think

I love a good aphorism, and I also like lists. I keep being asked what I think about stuff so, in the spirit of clarity, here’s a list of some of the things I think about education:


  • Getting behaviour right is the top priority for schools; when that’s cracked everything else will be possible. Until it’s cracked, nothing will work well.
  • Blaming teachers for the failure of a school to implement and stick to a robust behaviour system is morally reprehensible.
  • Misbehaving is a choice: if children behave badly in your lesson, it’s not your fault. Although it is your responsibility.
  • Every time you decide to let a school rule slide you are actively undermining your colleagues.
  • Don’t talk to parents about behaviour, talk about progress. Then they will talk to you about behaviour.


  • Students should enjoy learning, but enjoyment should not be our aim.
  • Time spent embedding classroom routines is always time well spent.
  • Think carefully about what you choose to do; you can only do one thing at a time, and there is always an opportunity cost.
  • You are the expert. No one else teaches your subject to your class in your classroom. If anyone ever tells you what you should have done differently after 20 minutes observation, politely ignore them.
  • Some students can do what you do, some can’t. Consider how you can be more explicit.
  • Planning activities is usually a distraction; focus on what you want your students to think about because that’s what they’ll remember.
  • There is no one way to teach. What you like is just what you like: never try to impose it on anyone else.
  • This goes double for marking: no one knows whether marking is particularly effective and they certainly don’t know the best way to go about it.
  • Differentiation is getting everyone to do something difficult and providing them with the support they need to be successful.
  • Metacognition just means thinking about how you went about a task. Dressing it up as anything else is foolish.
  • Stop asking teachers to talk less; think about how to improve teachers’ talk.
  • Independent learning often results in increased dependence.


  • Any policy predicated on the belief or expectation that teachers can or should work harder will fail.
  • Preparing for Ofsted is not CPD.
  • If I’m any yardstick, we are often wrong about what’s right: to err is human. We must be ever vigilant of our extraordinary capacity for self-deception.
  • The mark of great leadership is that it goes unnoticed.
  • You may think you’re being supportive, but how does the other person feel?
  • Never introduce a new initiative without removing an old one.
  • If a teacher is getting great results, leave them the hell alone. Or, better still, learn from them.
  • Give thought to how you could make meetings shorter.
  • If at all possible, offer interview candidates the opportunity to sleep on it. Rushing into making appointments is bad juju. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to sleep on most decisions.
  • If someone does something differently to you, try to see if there’s anything you can learn from them.
  • Something always has to give, but never compromise on your principles.
  • If you’ve given a course of action sufficient thought and actively looked for errors in your thinking, all will probably be well. If you do anything because someone told you to, it’ll probably be shit.
  • Everyone can be better at anything.

Data & targets

  • Learning is invisible. Any judgement made in the class room about how pupils are learning is guesswork at best. Any attempt to turn this information into data is witchcraft.
  • Always remember that target grades are made up.
  • Data doesn’t distort the curriculum or decisions about what to teach, people do.
  • What we teach is what we assess. Can we choose to assess what we value?

General advice

  • Let’s not celebrate failure; failure is just giving up before you’ve succeeded.
  • Go home as early as you can. Staying late is not in anyone’s interest, especially if you have children.
  • Turning up everyday is the most remarkable thing a teacher can do. Be proud of your attendance.
  • Try to avoid working through your lunch.
  • It always pays to acknowledge the invaluable role played by support staff.
  • Some children go whole days at school without speaking to anyone; you might be the only person they speak to today.
  • It’s always easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission. Beware those who insist on permission being sought.
  • Be honest and strive mightily to do your best: you will be forgiven.
  • Never let morality get in the way of doing what’s right.
  • The hardest thing to learn is when to stop.

Feel free to add what you think below.

2017-04-04T12:02:05+00:00May 14th, 2014|leadership|


  1. johnwoottonuk May 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Love it. Here’s one from me …
    When a senior manager/leader spends more time talking to you about your data than they do supporting you in the classroom … Get the hell out of there.

    • David Didau May 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm - Reply

      You could be right… Thanks John

    • Tom Pringle May 14, 2014 at 11:25 pm - Reply

      Sorry, not sure about your title “This is what I think”. I work in a data-driven school which just loves to drill-down. Thinking is not really a liberty we are afforded. At best, we get asked to think about what will make SLT look good to ofsted and how we can fake up some post hoc ergo proctor hoc data. Thinking? Nah, not encouraged but it was refreshing to read your thoughts, thank you, Sir.

      • David Didau May 14, 2014 at 11:27 pm - Reply

        Why not print out the list and stick it up in the staffroom?

        I feel your pain.

  2. nancy May 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    KISS keep it simple, stupid.
    Know what you are teaching.
    Relationships matter. Don’t know if they matter more with little ones, or with SEN, but they matter.
    Consistency in relationships matters more that consistency in marking.
    You don’t teach reception the same way you teach year 6.
    Accountability? Let’s look for another way.

  3. MainstreamSEN May 14, 2014 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    I would argue that getting SEN right is as important or just underneath getting behaviour right – schools ignore at a cost. Pretty much agree with all others though.

    I now know you like lists and hate sweet and sour…hhmm building a profile.

  4. @thisiseducation May 14, 2014 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Not convinced about forgiveness and permission but otherwise found myself nodding sagely in agreement. Behaviour is about relationships and these develop between students and teachers with learning so if I wrote such a good list I’d rephrase the first point too.

    • David Didau May 14, 2014 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Well, that gets to the heart about what people think about behaviour: I think it is the job of a school to allow children to learn and teachers to teach. Of course relationships are important, but good behaviour must be non-negotiable.

      If you’re interested, I’ve written about this in more detail here:

      • @thisiseducation May 15, 2014 at 8:47 pm - Reply

        Of course it’s not negotiable respectful students should always be the norm and if poor behaviour gets in the way of teaching or learning then people’s right to education is harmed and this is clearly not ok. My point is more that good behaviour is more likely to occur and sustain where relationships are positive and learning is genuine; I suggested that if it were me I would rewrite the point not delete it!

        • David Didau May 15, 2014 at 8:54 pm - Reply

          I understand the point you’re making. And yes, of course positive relationships help. But unless a school makes a stand, children use their relationship with teachers as an excuse for their misbehaviour.

          It’s no coincidence that I began my list with this point expressed in exactly this way. This is after all, what I think.

  5. debbiebleasdale May 14, 2014 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Notice something positive every single lesson.

  6. Ian Lynch May 14, 2014 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    List for abstraction for lifelong learning

    1. Start with fundamental knowledge
    2. Broaden the knowledge
    3. Look for links between pieces of knowledge
    4. Practice skills associated with the knowledge
    5. Use the learning to apply knowledge and skills for useful purpose
    6. Develop habits of trying to create new knowledge from existing
    7. Do research to fill gaps and broaden knowledge
    8. Prioritise areas of interest
    9. Go to 3

    • David Didau May 14, 2014 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      Slight quibble with No 8 – if it’s the priority, shouldn’t it come at the top?

      • Ian Lynch May 15, 2014 at 11:01 am - Reply

        There on the grounds you don’t know your interests until you have some knowledge you can compare – why we have a compulsory set of subjects in primary and lower secondary but give more choice at 14 and even more at 16 and beyond.

  7. Theresa Manuel May 14, 2014 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    That is remarkably sensible. Is it legal in the current climate? I think it could work.

  8. […] Read more… […]

  9. bt0558 May 14, 2014 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    A great list and great comments. Lots to think about. Thank you all

  10. @TeacherToolkit May 14, 2014 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    Really enjoyed this David. I’d like to add just two. Throughout your entire teaching career and at ‘every opportunity’: 1) always go-see/observe other teachers. 2) always visit other schools

  11. HTBruce May 14, 2014 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Totally agree about the importance of behaviour, but the more I spend in schools, the more I’m convinced that it’s leadership that’s at the heart of absolutely everything that happens in school – great leadership in great schools and poor leadership in poor schools. It impacts on everything – behaviour, attitudes, aspiration, teaching and learning- absolutely everything. Not sure that a list without any mention of leadership is a complete one. Some great ideas here though!

    • David Didau May 14, 2014 at 10:43 pm - Reply

      Every idea is about leadership. The mark of great leadership is that you don’t notice it.

  12. […] Read more on The Learning Spy… […]

  13. cazzwebbo May 14, 2014 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    Brilliant! Please can you do this as a spoken word recording over some audio soundtrack like desiderata?

    My fave one is: “. If anyone ever tells you what you should have done differently, politely ignore them.” 😉

    • David Didau May 14, 2014 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      Does anyone really want an audio recording of me reading a list?

      • jonnywalkerteaching May 15, 2014 at 7:06 am - Reply

        In the style of Baz Luhrman’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’

      • jamestheo May 16, 2014 at 10:25 pm - Reply

        I’ve got one: if anyone is putting bells and whistles on something eminently sensible, it is probably no longer going to be sensible.

        i.e., don’t do a spoken word recording over a soundtrack.

  14. Miss Moneypenny May 14, 2014 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Appreciate and aknowledge the work of your support staff from TA’s to administration clerks because none of the above is possible without us!

  15. 4c3d May 15, 2014 at 6:42 am - Reply

    Nice list and the sentiment is to be applauded. A win for common sense! There is one I have a question about though.

    “If children behave badly in your lesson, it’s not your fault. Although it is your responsibility.”

    Perhaps I am being too finicky because I agree with what I see as the sentiment, it is just the words “fault” and “responsibility” I need some clarification on.

  16. Harry Fletcher-Wood May 15, 2014 at 8:11 am - Reply

    This is a fantastic list – I feel I may tweet one thing a day from it to help me take it to heart.

    • David Didau May 15, 2014 at 8:33 am - Reply

      Harry – you are a gentleman and a scholar. Thanks

  17. Ben Keely May 15, 2014 at 8:43 am - Reply

    Great list apart from the following….

    “You are the expert. No one else teaches your subject to your class in your classroom. If anyone ever tells you what you should have done differently, politely ignore them.”

    How does such a statement allow for the sheer depth and complexity of teaching? Am I an expert after 1 week, 1 month, 1 year? If every teacher were to read that and take it to heart then humility and the possibility that we might be wrong goes out the window. There are people who have a wealth of experience in a particular area e.g. subject knowledge at A level and it would be entirely legitimate for them to say ‘I think you should have sequenced that differently’. Or if I had lost my temper with a student a colleague might say ‘ you should have kept your cool and dispensed justice dispassionately’. If your maxim were true then teachers could cling to it for a whole host of reasons other than that of professional autonomy.

    • David Didau May 15, 2014 at 9:44 am - Reply

      If as an observer you tell a teacher what they should have done, you’re not fit to observe. Ask them questions instead. Find out why they did what they did instead of assuming you know best. I’ve explained this in more detail here:

      • Ben Keely May 15, 2014 at 10:29 am - Reply

        I still can’t agree.

        The primacy of coaching/drawing out out people’s thinking following observation is sound but only up to a point. If you have helped clarify someone’s rationale for a decision about how they handled a behaviour incident or sequenced some content yet they remain adamant it was correct then where would you go from there? Would you not offer an opinion? Offering an opinion at this stage would be tantamount to saying what you would have done. If you offer no opinion and simply move on then you are relying on the teacher to have picked up the implicit criticism. Or do we live in a world with no universal truths whatsoever about teaching, assessment and behaviour management? If a teacher is getting terrible results year after year and you are asked to observe, is it ok for the feedback conversation to finish with the teacher explaining ‘I will politely ignore your suggestions about what I might do to improve as I am the expert’.

        On another tack I received plenty of direct advice about what I should do to improve in the quickest time possible. For example, ‘Don’t talk over the children’. Under the circumstances this can be the best way of helping teachers improve in the classroom particularly with behaviour management.I could have been coached about the mistakes I was making but this would have taken longer to have impact, the impact would have been uncertain and as a consequence relationships with students would have further deteriorated.

        • David Didau May 15, 2014 at 10:41 am - Reply

          “If you have helped clarify someone’s rationale for a decision about how they handled a behaviour incident or sequenced some content yet they remain adamant it was correct then where would you go from there?”

          Unless the wider evidence suggested they were incompetent, I’d have some humility and I’d respect them.

          The vast majority of the instruction given to teachers on how to teach is bias and preference (and often wrong.) Any attempt to download your preferences on to another will fail. Unless they respect you. And insisting people what to do what you prefer is no way to gain respect.

          We don’t have to agree. Feel free to write your own lists 😉

  18. Rachel Ayres May 15, 2014 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Can’t agree more with any of these!

  19. Gerald Haigh (@geraldhaigh1) May 15, 2014 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    Excellent stuff. Hardly anything even to quibble about. But I will ask —
    Sure bad behaviour is never the teacher’s fault? Sometimes it’s incompetent preparation. I feel that from personal experience. I also feel the responsibility for all behaviour is shared across the institution.That alone has been a huge change over the past 20 years,
    Meetings shorter? Yes. Also, I’d add, check whether everyone needs to attend at all, or for the whole time. And if a meeting is not identifiably about learning, there’d better be a damn good reason for it.
    Respect the person who cleans your room by not leaving it in shit order. Make sure you students follow suit.
    Oh, and befriend the caretaker, who undoubtedly has unexpected ways of making your life better, and may also have good contacts for car repairs etc.

    • David Didau May 15, 2014 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      If children misbehave (especially secondary age children) it is their choice and their fault. The prime responsibility rests with the school – is it OK to misbehave in Mr X’s lesson but not Miss Y’s? The misguided insistence of making misbehaviour the fault of a class teacher has done more harm than almost any other nonsense enacted during my career.

  20. sterlinghurley May 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    Love this David. Thanks. Although, I personally would amend the last point to “The most difficult thing to learn is not to stop.”

    • David Didau May 16, 2014 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      You would? Ha! That would then mean the exact opposite. We teachers often struggle to know when enough is enough.

      Thanks, David

      • sterlinghurley May 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm - Reply

        Very true. I was thinking more from a learner’s perspective than a teacher’s. From a teacher’s perspective I’d say it’s I can’t do it for them.

  21. JokeyHopey May 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    I love this list… like any statements of intent they got me thinking. I’d only add;

    1) Don’t ever think you’re indispensable and avoid the hubris of thinking you’re the only one who can get it right.

    2) Get worried if nobody disagrees with your ideas. Healthy debate and positive criticism aired appropriately are a sign of a strong team and not a weakness.

    3) Don’t expect people to take what you say on trust. Prove yourself and show your ideas have merit by making them work. You can’t argue with evidence.

  22. GregsMcNugget May 18, 2014 at 1:51 am - Reply

    Never underestimate the power of your reputation.

  23. […] You can also find out What I Think. […]

  24. […] the past few days I’ve told you what I think and a little bit about who I am. This post outlines the role I’d ideally […]

  25. Simon killen May 24, 2014 at 8:01 am - Reply

    To get behaviour right, form positive relationships. Aim to find out about the lives of children outside of school. Many have talents which will go unnoticed. Talents and hobbies which can be linked to learning… It’s amazing what an ad hoc chat in a lunch queue or in passing in the corridor about “how did you get on at the weekend with…” Can do to cement a positive relationship.

    • David Didau May 24, 2014 at 11:22 am - Reply

      These things all help, obviously, but the primary responsibility for behaviour rests with the school: where are their red lines? What will and will not be tolerated? A class teacher can only ever operate within the culture established by the school’s leadership.

  26. Neil Gilbride June 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    When sslt or line management ever insist you focus on one set of students over the other because they are more likely to get 5A*-Cs…..RUN.

  27. […] On compromise This is what I think […]

  28. […] also offered this insight in how I think and what I believe. I have not changed my mind about any of these […]

  29. David July 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    That is fantastic. I love it.

  30. Preamble | Talking About Learning July 28, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    […] Click here to read the David Didau blog post. […]

  31. Alison August 20, 2014 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    A brilliant list, may use with staff at new school to discuss to ensure shared views.

  32. bocks1 April 4, 2017 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Retire as early as you can afford and give back as much as you can (not necessarily to teaching) in whatever way you find most appropriate and fulfilling. Coach, mentor, train, or just help/volunteer. Life, as they say, is simply too short ……

  33. Mr Blachford April 4, 2017 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    If your staff have been teaching longer than you, more so if longer in the school you lead, ask their advice. You will make better informed judgements and write more effective policies.

  34. Tom Ingram April 5, 2017 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Under “General Advice”: On balance are you enjoying your work? If not, get out! Your behaviour will be negatively affecting too many young lives.

  35. […] David Didau zet zijn redeneringen en argumenten over onderwijs op een rij. Het gevolg: je denkt er wellicht een weekend of meer over na. Heb je niet genoeg: lees ook dit. […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: