Boys Don’t Try

I was intrigued by the title of this book in an era where gender can dictate a lot of conversation in schools but with a focus on girls. The research and insight the book has given me certainly sparked an interest to investigate the topic of boys (within an education setting) further in the future.

One of the key themes of the book is the expectation for teachers to treat boys in the same way as girls in the classroom. It dispels some of the myths of teaching boys (competition in lessons – been guilty of falling into this trap!). The opening chapter had me immediately reflecting on my practice and some of the stereotypes I have of boys in schools (even more amusing given I was one!).

I drew a lot of comparisons from the research and experiences in the book to what I went through at school as a student.

As a pupil I was generally challenged by teachers who saw me as having potential. I resisted at points in my secondary school life in order to be ‘cool’ but managed to work the line of being in the popular kids plus getting some of the best grades (and unashamedly working hard to get them).

However I am aware I was probably given more leeway at school given my sporting ability (let’s be honest I wasn’t exactly immense but one of the best in my school so it’s all relative!). Unfortunately I can think of a number of boys who were not as athletically blessed but who were top of the class – as a result they were often belittled by other ‘lads’ in the class. Culturally it’s still the case that ‘lads’ who are intelligent (and follow the stereotypical dress code) will often be subjected to ‘banter’ about this (ie generally ridiculed).

As a teacher I can think of plenty of examples where I have accepted a scenario with a boy purely based on stereotypes and not pushed them as much as they should have been. That being said as a boy who received various nudges from my teachers I have invested time into male pupils who remind me of my younger self – sitting on the cusp of the cool kids and being athletically able but also having plenty of potential in the classroom. Having worked in the private sector for 9 years this is not as evident as it was working in the UK (there is less ridicule for trying hard in lessons for example) but it certainly still exists – I hope that I can continue to push plenty of boys to be the best version of themselves in my current role and in the future.

The issue of class setting came up (linked to disadvantaged students). While I do not work with many financially disadvantaged pupils in a high fee paying school, I have dabbled in setting on ability in PE and would love to find some more research specific to our subject on this area. It’s a topic that I love to debate with other PE colleagues.

Peer pressure was the focus of one chapter and I linked it to one of my current Year 11 boys who frequently throws out the comment, “so and so is a try hard”. I have challenged this before but will be pursuing this actively next lesson – the concept of being a ‘try hard’ (ie doing homework on time, answering questions) seems to be negative but really it’s a front to cover up boys’ insecurities about failing.

The section on banter certainly struck a cord with me – I can often ride the line on this as I like to think I have a sense of humour. References to ‘man flu’ or ‘man up’ don’t do much good for gender equality. I remember an incident as an NQT where I asked a Year 11 boy if he was on his time of the month based on the mood he was in (a poorly considered attempt at humour on my part) – the follow up reaction was merited on his part and I learned my lesson the hard way about bridging that gap between being a teacher and one of the ‘lads’.

Overall, well worth a read as a teacher of any age group or subject. I will be recommending it to my pastoral team in the first instance as I think we have a number of boys who will benefit from educators who are informed of current research and practice in this area.

Middle Leadership 3 Day Residential #1

I was recently accepted to take part in a middle leadership programme for our company which I felt would be an excellent opportunity to develop some of my skills over a 9 month period. In order to help me reflect on the learning that took place over the three day residential I am going to share some of the experiences here even if it only clears things up in my head.

We discussed the difference between management and leadership – I drew the conclusion that there is a balance that needs to be maintained between the two. Leadership is exciting and inspiring, but solid management is the basis that underpins a great leader.

We were invited to consider ourselves as leaders at this moment in time and some of my areas that I wanted to develop (but also some of my strengths) were:


I am of the belief I am a better manager than I am a leader – I can handle the admin aspect well and my current job means I probably do not lead as much as I have in previous roles – my areas for development probably align with what I need to work on as I look at future leadership opportunities.

My default mode when hit with a problem is to go into my stock leadership role – problem solver/pace setter. On reflection, this one style really doesn’t support everyone that I have had the chance to lead – the discussion of other styles was a lengthy and brilliant session that had me considering past performance.

One of the quotes I took away was linked to the concept of selecting the correct leadership style:

‘Make sure you pick the correct golf club based on the shot required.’

Pick the relevant leadership style based on the scenario – the ‘driver’ will not always be appropriate!

We did a really positive session on managing change which put me out of my comfort zone. My feedback and reflection from the session was that I was ‘the pen holder’ and very much dictating the work of the group. Could I empower others in the group? This was an area I was determined to work on as the residential went on!

On day 2 we covered emotional intelligence and I highlighted that self regulation and empathy were the areas I wanted to really work on.

This led into our work on our change project – I have a few ideas that need polished up and finalised but hopefully they will be beneficial for the pupils first and foremost.

The final scenario looked at handling problems – it was really well pitched and created an intense environment for the group. For the most part I think I handled the scenario better than the day before – I actively tried to facilitate others but still tried to input as I felt I had the capacity to. It was a crisis management situation and a really good example of the role of a middle leader.

For now, I will be working through the reading list and the monthly tasks while trying to maintain the reflections I have had over the course of the residential.

Stop Talking, Start Influencing

As part of my ongoing challenge to blog more as well as ensure I take away more from the literature I am reading, I am going to the write a series of book reviews as soon as I have finished them.

Stop Talking, Start Influencing by Jared Cooney Horvath was a book I originally purchased to help support my inclusion in a leadership course however I found it was very well suited to my role as a teacher – lots of the research supported some of the common misconceptions or myths surrounding how people digest information (notably young people in a lesson).

There are 12 main lessons that underpin the book, but the following three chapters were most useful for me as a PE teacher:

  • (#10) Use of stories to guide understanding, memory foundation and thinking
  • (#1) It is impossible to simultaneously read words while listening to someone speak
  • (#11) Moderate stress can boost memories and general learning

The ability to start a lesson or learning episode with a relevant story will allow your audience to interweave this with the desired learning outcomes. The examples in the book were really good at reminding me that a lot of my strongest learning experiences came from being able to recall a story linked with that learning. Stories will improve engagement (which Horvath outlines is not actually enough to improve learning) which in turn enhances motivation to learn on that topic.

Listening to someone speak and read the words (think Powerpoint presentation) is impossible to do according to the research Horvath presents. When I consider the amount of lectures, seminars, conferences, lessons etc that I have been a part of that ignore this, it begs the question; how did I ever learn much from these moments? Powerpoints (ones that are displayed to pupils) should have a maximum of 7 key words, but pictures that support the speech are encouraged. It also highlights the issue of giving out a handout for your presentation as this reading opportunity will simply distract from the presentation. This may sound simple but I think 99% of the training I have received since I started teaching has been guilty of breaking at least one of these rules.

Moderate stress can boost learning – the link I made here was on the fantastic work of Julien Pineau (founder of StrongFit) who outlines a create visual on improving human capacity via a similar curve based diagram. Not enough stress (too easy, no challenge) – there will be no learning or growth. Too much stress, then the learning will be impossible (Pineau shows this as an athlete breaking or becoming injured). The sweet spot is when you create enough stress to allow the pupil to grow continually, maintaining motivation and challenge but without ‘breaking’ them. For me to make this link in regard to human capacity and fitness was a great takeaway for my understanding.

One of my most enjoyable nuggets from the book was the chapter linked to the fact that no human can multitask (not even females!). Some people can jump almost instantaneously between tasks but at no point can anyone actually be processing two tasks at once – I am delighted to say I am one of the people who therefore does the opposite and chooses to rarely attempt to ‘multi-task’ in this manner!

I would think the title would not lure in many class teachers or educators to read this book, but I would say that this is an audience who will really enjoy this research and the way it is presented. Given its price on Amazon, it should be in most teacher CPD libraries!

Culture Code

I was recently accepted into the Middle Leadership programme for our group of schools and one of my first tasks is to feedback on a book I have recently read that links to leadership. Fortunately my main source of reading comes from leadership literature (mainly with a sport bias) so I was able to get tucked into this task relatively quickly. Couple that with a distinct lack of blogging over the past 18 months, I have the kick start I need to try and use this programme to share my reflections and tasks with the Twitter world.

Task – Summarise the key ideas from a book or an article on leadership that you have read and include an outline of how this has influenced your leadership.

A book I have recently read that I would like to share with the group is “Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle. The main theme of the book is about building a successful and infectious culture within organisations and how this can influence leaders (but also the members within the organisation). It has been a popular theme in a host of other books I have read over the past 12 months and I might refer to them at points as well to help shape my view (notably The Barcelona Way – Damian Hughes, Start With Why – Simon Sinek, Legacy – James Kerr, Chasing Excellence – Ben Bergeron). While I have really enjoyed all of these books and find the material very interesting I think most of them are influenced by Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – one book I would recommend above all others for those who are interested in self development and improvement.

One of the key themes of the book is the value and importance of people within the organisation. They help create the ‘infectious’ nature of the culture that a leader is trying to build and is highlighted as one of the priorities in embedding high performance culture. Ultimately, the right people on the bus (good apples) and the wrong ones off the bus (bad apples – or “rocks” as Sir Clive Woodward would suggest) will lead to a greater opportunity for developing the culture you want in any group or organisation. “Hire people who believe what you believe” – hiring is a key component of any successful organisation and as a middle leader I am always keen to be involved in this process to ensure we get the right “fit” for our department.

One my biggest frustrations as a middle leader in a previous school as I was met with a small percentage of employees in my team who did not share the passion of teaching that I had (or expected from others) ie a couple of ‘bad apples’. While I was able to work together with them and our department was able to make progress they certainly hindered that progress and we were able to move those colleagues on so that we could get the right people on the bus instead. The bus was still able to move but without the right people, you will be delayed to your intended destination!

Another theme in the book was linked to, as a leader, investing in making people feel like they belong. Challenge them, give them a chance to grow – this investment of time will pay off not just in helping the organisation but also develop the culture that will be infectious to others. Have high standards of people but give them the belief that they can meet these standards. In my very first leadership role, I was guilty of setting relentlessly high standards without probably giving all members of the department the belief they could meet them – I just expected they would as I assumed they were all passionate about being better and therefore creating a better environment for the pupils. Unfortunately I was quick to learn that management is not that easy! Linking to this development of making people feel like they belong is this article about Gregg Popovich (sorry for the sport bias but thats my background!) – another great example of developing high performance culture.

Another theme was the focus on effective and regular training to maintain culture. This is an area I have always felt is an area of weakness in schools – new ideas come in, we have training sessions on them for a day and then it is expected to become part of our daily process and routines – then we do not talk about them as a group again for 6 months until the next CPD day. A very interesting article that offers an alternative to this approach comes via Teacher Toolkit – have a read!

The final key theme that I took from the book was that of over-communicating your message as an organisation. Everyone in the group has a role to play in this (irrelevant of place in the hierarchy) – this shared responsibility was highlighted as key to developing culture. Then as a leadership group maintain the culture by ‘sweeping the sheds’ (from the Legacy book by James Kerr) – again abolishing the feeling of a hierarchy and setting an example of hard work by completing menial tasks together. In some organisations I find the repeating language of culture a little “corny” but the book outlines that if this language was developed by the whole group then this feeling would not happen (and in turn the language linked to culture was used frequently which continues the cycle of culture building). If all of the employees in your school had collectively come up with “Be Ambitious” as one of the tag lines, do you think it would become part of common language within classrooms and corridors within the school?

I would be interested to discuss any of the themes I have raised – thanks for reading!

“Tribe of Mentors” Questions

After finishing a “must read” in ‘Tribe of Mentors’ by Tim Ferris, I decided I wanted to take on the 11 questions that largely underpin the entire book. They are cleverly structured, and he uses them to draw inspiration, advice and experiences from a host of people in various sectors. The first thing that happens is a small profile of the person being interviewed, but I will not do it on the scale he does – simply:

@pairupinthrees is a PE teacher who has worked in Scotland, the Middle East, Kazakhstan and will shortly be relocating to Hong Kong. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he has had the opportunity to work in some large international schools, and has experience as Head of Department. He hosted the U13 BSME Games 3 years ago, and also has been involved in opening 2 CrossFit gyms in his previous 2 schools.

Here goes with the questions:

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Chasing Excellence – Ben Bergeron. I follow the majority of Ben’s work (podcast, programming, reading) and have really bought into the philosophy he shares. This book has a CrossFit bias, but the principles that are the driving force in the book are transferrable to life. I have gifted this to a few people and I only read it for the first time last summer – it is the first book in years I have gone back to read repeatedly in quick succession.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie. Old but one of the best self help books on the market. The title isn’t one that will lure people in, but the content and message should.

Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed. Marginal gains, focusing on the small things – this really sparked my own thinking about teaching, life and progressing in general. If you are someone driven by the finer details, this is a must read.

I blogged about my most recent reads (the last 12 months or so) about 3 months ago.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

The Habit Bull app on my phone (£5 I think). The most I have ever spent on an app, so I gambled! I use it all the time, tracking the essentials in my day so that I do not forget them. It has also really improved my commitment to things like contacting my parents and family, as living so far away means I can lose track of what is going on. I pick up the phone to my folks once a week – this was something I was okay at before, but now I am fully accountable via the app as I am uncomfortable when a habit is not checked off! I also track things like blog reading, listening to podcasts, doing my pre-hab etc – there can be a lot going on in a day, and this is a good visual way of me tracking progress.

Along the same theme, a nice lined Moleskine notepad – it goes nearly everywhere with me, as I love a good scribbled note. A5 with lined or plain paper if you are buying.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I have had a significant amount of these in my time! One that stands out –  as a youngster, I was released from a professional football club. I was heartbroken, and I also struggled to find the lessons in being released, but over the years I finally started to connect with some of them – I wish had worked them out sooner. This happened probably 17 years ago and I still remember it well – it has certainly been a pivotal “failure” in my time.

At work, I nearly got my P45 for forwarding an email from a Principal to an outside agency (the email was very short and informal – also the content had some contentious politics in there) – I nearly got hung for that! I had to take it on the chin and move on, and what followed was one of the most significant additions to my CV since I started teaching (hosting the BSME Games). It wasn’t a pleasant learning curve, but one that stood me in stead. That same Principal has a lot of time for me as he knows I was always prepared to put myself out there and try to improve things for the children – with that came the potential to mess things up. I learned my lesson, and know that I can always go back to him for a strong reference as he appreciated my work capacity and passion for the subject (despite my tendency to push some buttons!).

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Muhammad Ali – I have this as a tattoo in Arabic – I have a lot of time for Ali and what he stood for.

“Hard work pays off”. Enough said.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Money – the investment I made to move abroad in my teaching career. I was paid back immediately in terms of finances and more importantly, I was given fantastic opportunities to develop as a young man and in my career. It also gave me the chance to meet my other half which would have been worth it in itself.

Time – working with an Ethiopian charity (#projectbishoftu). While we have helped raise a lot of money, I have found after visiting 3 times in the past 5 years, it is the time you spend there that is the most valuable thing you can donate. I just love coaching the group of lads I have worked with in the last 5 years – to see the journey they have been on really is so special and is a constant reminder to me about why I do what I do – the chance to make a difference is incredible.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Not necessarily absurd, but I love hats – any type really. Irrelevant if others think it is ridiculous (which a few people including my dad have pointed out) – for example I will wear a beanie hat with shorts and t-shirts, even if it is way too hot for one. And beanie’s probably went out of fashion years ago, but I have loads of them! In general I might own around 40 or 50 different hats! My girlfriend would say I have loads of lots of “things” – I could probably be shortlisted as a hoarder – but I like to find the value in different things! All of these “things” stay in my man cupboard – I cannot wait to own a shed, like my late Papa whose shed was an epic array of “things”! I will be the only one with the keys!

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

I have always been a hard worker, but would have been influenced by peers and colleagues and maybe not shown my full capacity as it wasn’t the done thing. Over time (and as I have matured) I have cared less about what others think around me, and strived to be the hardest worker in the room, and always trying to better myself for the sake of the people I work with and for. My attitude at work and in life can sometimes be taken as out of the ordinary, but I think it is relatively simple and I find others who do not want to push themselves as the strange ones!

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Specifically those graduating with a degree in PE teaching – don’t believe you cannot come back to Scotland/UK to teach if you go and teach internationally (or take time out of the profession completely). Do not be afraid to take on a new challenge or path just because it does not directly align with your qualification or experience. Go out there, work hard, listen and look to add value wherever you go and whatever you do. The rest will take care of itself.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

The focus on having students “pass” over having students walk out of school as better human beings. Having taught only core PE for the past 2 years it has been refreshing to find our departmental focus is directed towards the importance of developing the children and not necessarily improving their GCSE grades. If you help them become better people, the likelihood is their report cards will be better anyway. We are not in a job to help them become better sports people or athletes – we are there to help them become better at life.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Social events. I am 29 now, and the drive to go out and have a few drinks has certainly eased off. I actually went for a long period of time without drinking at all, while still socialising, and it was great. That was a constant cycle of saying “no” but eventually the answer started to have more weight over time. I still socialise (I am not a hermit!) but I have a better handle on my priorities.

I am also “slightly” better at saying no to management over some aspects that are not priorities in my eyes or that of our department. While I understand I answer to those above me (and often there are people above them) my priority is the students – and therefore their development is at the forefront of decisions that are made in the office.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

Earphones go in when at work – it is an indirect “do not disturb” to all of those in the office. I am not a regular for putting them in – but unfortunately sometimes a task needs your complete attention and in a PE office, there are a number of potential distractions. By only doing it for short windows and rarely, it has more effect with my colleagues (and any students who fancy popping down to ask a nonsensical question!)

I train regularly – that is my sanctuary from some of the negative aspects that you have to deal with in a day, and also my chance to prioritise “me” over anything else. I prefer to train in a group environment, but if not an option, getting out for a run/cycle/swim is great and provides all the meditation I need.

I had a lot of fun answering these questions – I would love to see others have a go!

The What If Scenario…….

I recently listened to a podcast by Ben Bergeron, owner of CrossFit New England, and one of the topics of conversation was various “what if” scenarios and tactful conflict resolution. Ben has recently introduced this discussion in staff meetings in order to help his colleagues be better prepared for the various things that can occur in a day, both within the business but also the wider world.

It had me thinking about the various scenarios that have come up in the past 2 weeks in my current school. I would love to hear individual and departmental views on how they would deal with these – while I think either myself or the person involved dealt with some of these very well, there is always room for improvement (and another point of view).

  1. What would you do if: One of the members of your department left the school (without informing any other staff or their line manager) for 3 hours to get a haircut?
  2. What would you do if: You walked into the boys changing room to find one student with boxing gloves punching another student in the head?
  3. What would you do if: A game of football you organised for your students had to be cancelled on the day of a game, due to a late issue with another whole school event?
  4. What would you do if: Your Headteacher did not appear at the end of year Sports Awards ceremony, and was due to give out an award at that ceremony?
  5. What would you do if: Challenged by a parent directly (in front of their child) regarding their PE report (and with no prior warning they were coming to meet you?)

These are only a handful of examples……. I am sure people have many more. I think it would be a valuable experience to share some of the more unique situations that arise in schools, to allow staff to be better prepared for what might happen!

In summary, for tactful conflict resolution, Ben’s advice was relatively simple:

-Your first reply should start with “Thank you”

-Listen intently

-Admit mistakes

-Allow them to take a role in creating the outcome

-Ensure the desired outcome can be met with immediate action

Happy conflict resolution!



Recent Reading List…..

In the past 12 months, I have made an active effort to increase my reading. It is always something I have enjoyed, and was actually a keen reader at school, but with work consuming my life and no energy left when I went to bed, my habit of reading for 15 minutes before sleeping slowly slipped away. After reintroducing a number of positive habits into my life (with the help of the app Habit-Bull) I have pushed myself to read more – and have covered lots of material in the past 12 months! I was motivated to list all of these courtesy of a fitness specialist called Marcus Smith (@mjd_smith) I follow on Instagram, who shared his reading last from the past 24 months.

Some books I have not included as they were “holiday books” (I like Crime fiction) and did not influence any part of my daily routine, my teaching or my lifestyle. All of the books listed below I took at least one aspect from and allowed to shape some aspects of my thinking. Some of these are really excellent books that I will certainly read again in a year or so.


Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferris

The Greatest – Matthew Syed

Stronger – Jeff Bauman

The Learning Rainforest – Tom Sherrington (@teacherhead)

The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle

Relentless – Tim Grover

Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed

Ali: A Life – Jonathon Eig

Bounce – Matthew Syed

2 Hours – Ed Caesar

The Chimp Paradox – Prof Steve Peters

Chasing Excellence – Ben Bergeron

Walking the Himalayas – Levison Wood

Above Head Height – James Brown

Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson

Run, Ride, Sink or Swim – Lucy Fry

Eat & Run – Scott Jurek


Running With the Kenyans – Adharanand Finn

The Way of the Runner – Adharanand Finn

5000-1 The Leicester City Story – Rob Tanner

Saban – The Making of a Coach – Monte Burke

100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers – Ross McGill (@teachertoolkit)

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Inside Team Sky – David Walsh

Deskbound – Kelly Starrett

The 1997 Masters – My Story – Tiger Woods

The Killing School – Brandon Webb

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Aron Ralston

On the bookshelf and hoping to read in the next couple of months:

Podium – Ben Oakley

Talent lab – Owen Slot

Rules of The red rubber ball – Kevin Carroll

Developing better athletes, better people – Jim Thompson

Elevating your game – Jim Thompson

Any recommendations? Would love to hear…….