Peasant 1: Who’s that?

Peasant 2: Dunno. Must be a king.

Peasant 1: How do you know?

Peasant 2: He hasn’t got shit all over him


When I was in my early days on Twitter, a friend gave me the sound advice to follow all those linked into my profession whether I liked them or not. If you only follow people you like, came the logic, you’ll get an unrealistic view of what the world is like. You’ll essentially live in a bubble consuming your own smoke, I really understood what she meant and it made total sense. So, as my Twitability got going, I kept this in mind. As confidence grew with #hashtags, one I particualrly valued – and still do – was #Gove as it was a space for educators, parents and anyone interested to vent their frustration at the rapid evolution of (some say) a narrow educational policy. I have contributed hundred of Tweets to this particular hashtag, most recently around the decimation of the Arts curriculum in secondary (and at the time Speaking and Listening was dropped from the draft primary curriculum) as some schools tremble in fear at the Ebacc, but I have come to realise that I am one of a million voices who are essentially shouting into the wind. I may be totally wrong, but I don’t think the DfE pay much attention to #Gove – they may observe its trends, but take it seriously?

I was at a teaching conference recently and there was a bookstand selling books around the teaching and education theme. What struck me was that the authors of these books were all teachers – some may have moved onto consultancy and the like – but they had all worked with children in school settings, their experiences now being used to support others. I know it may be a cheap apolitical point, but I’m not sure many working in the Education Secretary’s office or various Think Tanks, have stood in a class of thirty wondering how to approach Seamus Heaney’s beautiful agricultural poetry knowing one particular child lost his father at the weekend. Or, that feeling of uselessness when a child predicted a grade F manages a D and you ask yourself ‘have I actually helped’? If you’re a teacher reading this, you’ll have your own repertoire of anecdotes to offer. My point is, and I don’t wish to be labelled as over-emotive, is that our core business is sometimes overlooked by those in Westminster who seek to tell us what to do. 

On Tuesday, The Guardian reported a meeting of Headteachers who had had enough and wished to suggest, from the point of view of expert teachers working in schools, the direction Government policy could and should take. Any Government. A six point manifesto of experience that will draw in the voices of teachers, educators from across the spectrum of settings and, of course, parents and children. Read it here if you missed it:


There is now a place where YOU can comment on and contribute to the mission of @headsroundtable:

Read it and ask yourself which point resonates with you. Me? Curriculum and assessment to be taken out of political control – I like that. It’s what I try and do when working in classrooms with teachers and children when I use the utterly democratic dramatic process Mantle of the Expert. If any of it resonates with you then share it, write about it, talk about it and join this lovely example of Twactivism.

Also, take a look at @thatiangilbert ‘s alternative Labour education conference speech here:


This Roundtable will hopefully have a little more luck then their namesake and I think they need our support in staying true to the values, moral intentions and ethics that got us into the job in the first place. I’m really encouraged by their credibility and courage. Rather than sit back and wait to see what happens, I thought I’d do my bit to let people know.Follow them at @headsroundtable and join the discussion they’ve invited to you.

Bottom line is, no teacher wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, ‘You know what? Today I’m going to lower standards’.



Independent Thinking’s Big Day Out 19/10/2012


Here’s the BDO hashtag Twitter steream for last Friday’s fantastic Independent Thinking Big Day Out held in Bristol. Ignore the tweets that clearly don’t belong – I’ve put this together, like a lot of things, accidentally.




Some fab stuff here as well from @lisajaneashes: http://learningspy.visibli.com/share/HcpCWQ





Getting your head into Mantle of the Expert Part One



I’m indebted to @totallywired77 for prompting me to write this brief post. I’ve had a few tweets and emails asking for more information about the Mantle of the Expert approach to learning and teaching. The definitive text to seek out is Drama for Learning by Dorothy Heathcote and Gavin Bolton


It takes the form of a learning conversation between the two experts. The other key resource (for primary colleagues in particular) is www.mantleoftheexpert.com which gives details of weekend courses which are well worth attending no matter what age group you teach. The site is maintained by Luke Abbot, National Lead for Mantle of the Expert and Tim Taylor, Mantle Trainer. I worked with Luke when he was brought to my school (a secondary in Barnsley, South Yorkshire) where we were essentially attempting to reinvigorate our Key Stage Three curriculum. The work was so successful that Luke then invited Dorothy Heathcote to the school to work with myself, @janeh271 and our brilliant kids. Essentially, this was an experience that kick-started me into what I do now and elevated me to the lofty heights of the Mantle of the Expert National Training Team.

@rkieran is Headteacher of Woodrow First School in Redditch where the curriculum is delivered through Mantle of the Expert. The school have started running study days where you can observe and participate in projects with actual real live children. Details are on www.mantleoftheexpert.com


I’ve had the privilege of working with staff and TAs at the school. They have children in the nursery using the system – it really has to be seen to be believed. Also, it’s a great place to feel better about your own creative practise – creativity doesn’t come at the cost of data or diminish the integrity of learning.


There’s a really good Dorothy Heathcote video on You Tube that shows DH going into what is essentially a really tough teaching environment and asking the lads what they want to learn about. They answer ‘War’, so she tells them to pick up their guns. They reach down and pick up imaginary weapons, feeling the weight of them in their hands. Now that’s risk taking: allowing the kids to step into the imaginative context using the power of inductive language. See the film here:

There are fewer secondary resources for Mantle of the Expert and this is the point I guess I want to get to. Using Mantle of the Expert is NOT just for primary teachers. I have demonstrated this point here http://hywel.posterous.com/luring-secondary-learning-through-mantle-of-t and if you’ve read my book, you’ll see I’m selling the system to anyone who’s up for a go:


I recently ran a workshop with @rkieran at the annual National Association for the Teaching of Drama (NATD) conference where we worked with colleagues from all sectors of education. The workshop was three hours long and scratched the surface of what MoE is actually about. We realised that to deliver MoE successfully, you need the right mindset and philosophy around learning and teaching. By the word ‘right’ I mean, it’s an inductive process, so you need to be an inductive teacher. You need to see the humanity in your own curriculum and you need to be brave when it comes to diving through the interesting doors children sometimes open up for you. You’ve got to see learning as a journey and move through the landscape side by side with your children – including those most difficult to reach. I’ll post a copy of our workshop film as soon as it’s ready.

Finally for this post (and after hopefully whetting your appetite for more), my most profound learning experiences as a teacher (since working with Dorothy H) has been using MoE in special settings. I have been working closely with Springwell Community Special School, Barnsley, with @davewhitaker246 and @vwatts using MoE to create a curriculum for children entirely disengaged from the mainstream system. It was recently judged outstanding by Ofsted. We reviewed it here:


I have also spent time in Greenacre School, Barnsley, looking at how the SEND curriculum can be developed using MoE as a foundation.

I’ve realised I’ve got so much to say about #mantleoftheexpert so will add another post soon. I hope this is useful for you to get some foundations to your own thinking.

I’ll also actually describe what MoE actually is!!





As you know, I’m a Drama teacher. That makes me a frustrated playwright and actor as well.  I’ve just found this that I left sitting on my laptop about four years ago. It’s called ‘Silent Treatment’ and is about a teacher locked in a cupboard. Hope you like it. Takes about four minutes to read – it’s no epic.






Silent Treatment


Hywel Roberts



We find JIM (59) sitting on a battered chair in a small, forgotten, dusty, book-lined, stock room.  


JIM:    They’ve gone quiet. Not like last time. They were mental then. Today it’s calculated. Reasoned. Planned. A ritual humiliation executed with precision and gall. My own fault. Oldest trick in the book. My keys in the lock with the red tag on. Easy to spot. For them. They’re all eyes. Piercing your armour with a silent gaze. They didn’t tell me about that at teacher training college. They didn’t tell me very much. There wasn’t much talk of them. They were just part of the job. Back then it was about passion. Communicating passion. My passion? Literature. The greats. The classics. We were told to fill their tiny minds with passion and love. For words. Today, I’m mostly lost for them.


JIM knocks on the door and effects his ’teacher’ voice


JIM:    Come on now. Unlock the door.




JIM:    Of course, my father was very proud. Being a teacher back then was akin to becoming a doctor or a member of parliament. You got respect. We’d go to the pub most lunchtimes – what was it called? – and share stories and laugh. And the landlord would always have our drinks waiting. You could smoke then as well without being labelled a social pariah. Then back to school for a steady afternoon of Blake. Or Tennyson.


A pause. He reaches to knock on the door but thinks the better of it.


Suddenly –


JIM:   ‘The Swan and Cemetery’! That was it. ‘The Swan and Cemetery’. Yes. Happy times. Happy times.


JIM looks around the shelves and grabs book. He flicks through it with some contempt and then returns it to its place


JIM:    Books books books. Beautiful books. All forgotten. Some of these in here will have been untouched by human hands for years. No contact at all with the outside world. Just pages, yellowing slowly in the dullness of dust. Words wasted – lying dead on the shelf.


JIM looks to the door contemplating


JIM:    I’ve never been one to waste words. They’re too valuable a currency. (beat) I do think I should have said more though. Found the words to make her stay.


JIM smiles on remembering a face. His smile fades. He looks back to the door and addresses it


JIM:    Come on now. Open the door. You know what happened last time.




JIM:    I consider myself articulate in the ways of the world, but when I saw her walking into the staffroom that day, the floor gave way beneath my feet and I floated on air. She sold books from a stand in the corner of the room. Text books for every subject you could imagine. Some subjects I’d never even heard of. She had manicured nails, soft skin and a hard sell. She gave me her card when I promised to buy in bulk.


JIM chuckles


JIM:    Next thing you know, we’re off on a cruise. It all happened so fast. My life totally changed. She was younger than me – I felt like Paul Newman. Totally invigorated – I mean, I’d actively embraced bachelorhood till that point. The long shadow of my father relented and sunsh
ine ran through my veins. Through our veins. Even the petty demands of other people’s children seemed just a minor inconvenience. Children.




JIM:    We agreed to differ on direction and I should have recognised the tolling of the death-bell. I tried to explain that I already had children. Hundreds of them. All of them, every day of my working life. There is so much more to life than childhood, I explained. She started the silent treatment. She’d close herself away. Locked the bathroom door.


As he talks, JIM addresses the stockroom door, lost momentarily in the past


JIM:     (gently knocking) Come on. Let me in. Let’s talk about it. (beat) I want us to get through this. We’re a team aren’t we?




JIM:    (suddenly enraged) Come on!


He bangs on the door and tries the handle. Still locked.


JIM:    So unreasonable!


He stops but is breathing heavily


JIM:    One afternoon I got home and she’d gone. Her perfume lingered for a number of days but that soon drifted away and the shadows returned. Its funny isn’t it that you always find the words that have previously eluded you, when you least need them. Too late. Sitting on my own, they rush in my head. Choking me. Making me brim over. I’m there at the door and everything I say makes perfect sense –


He stands and faces the door, spitting the words into it


JIM:    – Let me in! I know the truth now. Thank you! Thank you! I love my job but I love my life more. I love the words but I want to hear them. Speak to me! Speak to me!


He bangs the door –


JIM:    Speak to me.



A key turns in the door and it swings ajar. JIM looks out, then back at us



JIM:    ‘Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.’






JIM:    Tennyson.



He exits through the door.




The End



 (c)2009 Hywel Roberts


The First Five Minutes


The First Five Minutes:

getting children hooked in quickly


Gone are the days of children sitting uniformly in rows hanging on the teacher’s every word. Hooking children into the content of your lesson is now part and parcel of the job, and we need to ensure that we have a repertoire of resources at hand to support us…and that can often be easier said than done. In the same way the uniformed rows of automon-like children may be a thing of the past, so has our expectation that every child loves our subject, or the particular topic we’re hoping to fire them up with. A lot of children experience school as learning being ‘done to them’ – they feel a disconnect from it – often school can say nothing to a child about their day to day experience of the world that they live in. It is our job to alter that; to bring the world into the learning – to help some children shift from being streetwise to worldwise.

The best place to start hooking children into learning is to begin with your greatest resource and take look in the mirror. Who do the children see when they walk into your room? Teachers need to have some basics which they often forget to mention at teacher-training institutions. I call them specific teacher acts:

·         Smiling

·         Laughter

·         Enthusiasm

·         Patience

·         Time

A neat acronym here maybe, but there’s more to it than that. I know I had to work really hard at these five things especially on a wet Friday afternoon teaching Year Nine Drama. There’s the spirit of inductive practice embodied in these acts – please don’t be fooled into thinking that these are soft skills. They are, in fact, sometimes very hard to muster. On Fridays I had to switch these specific teacher acts on. What are you switching on?

We can obviously help ourselves by ensuring that our rooms are places children don’t mind being. You don’t have to go far to find lots of advice about this sort of thing and these particular considerations work for me:

·         Rights (both of child and teacher)

·         Rules (and expectations)

·         Responsibilities

·         Routines

…and in big fat letters, underpinning everything  : RELATIONSHIPS.

This list may well be familiar to you. If it is, what do these elements look like in your classroom? Something I had to do with some children in my classes was plan (and I do mean write down) how I was going to attempt to build positive relationships when it appeared all they wanted to do was dismiss the work – sometimes aggressively. I considered this to be differentiation by support.

There’s another R that perhaps we could add to the list: RAPPORT

Can you define rapport?

Julie Starr, in her great book The Coaching Manual, defines rapport as the ‘dance that happens behind communication’. I like that. And I get it. So, what dance do you do with your Year 7s? I imagine it will be different to the dance you do with your Year 12s? Or when you’re talking to an Ofsted inspector?

So you’ve got your own behaviour sorted. How then, do we make lessons worth behaving for? For me, it is the first few minutes. Following the meet and greet, we are in. What’s happening then? Do you have a settler (a task to settle) or do you let them talk whilst you figure out the register? What about :

·         A fat (open) question on the whiteboard – a new one everyday – 2 minutes to think, 2 minutes with talk partners, then feedback responses e.g. Why do we have bones? How can we reduce poverty? What are we going to do about the Big Bad Wolf?

·         A fascinating photograph – type rich poor contrast into an image search engine and you’ll see what I mean. This image stimulus can invite the same process as with the fat question.

·         On a pen drive, build up a collection of powerful images and questions that you can access quickly no matter what room you are in – this is particularly good for colleagues who supply or are on cover supervision

·         Have an appropriate piece of music playing e.g. in a recent Y7 project around PROTEST, I used songs by Billy Bragg, The Special AKA, Billie Holliday to name a few.

Stuck for ideas? Get on Twitter for starters.

It’s those first five minutes that show who you are as a teacher and what you expect from your children. Don’t waste them.


Hywel Roberts is a teacher, author and creative educational consultant. He is an associate of Independent Thinking. His book  ‘Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally’ is available on Amazon.



This piece was first published in the ATL members monthly magazine – www.atl.org