As teachers across the country find themselves looking to the start of a fresh academic year, many of them will be setting up and organising new class Teams and Class Notebooks – a legacy of Covid, but one that for many teachers seems here to stay.

As a long-term user of Teams and Class Notebook, I want to share with you, step by step, how I’ll be organising and using mine. If you haven’t used Class Notebook before, now is your chance. If you have, then hopefully you’ll find some interesting new ideas to try out.

Organising the Content Library

The Content Library is equivalent to a traditional file or binder, with different sections and pages. For my own Content Library, I divide it between texts that I teach, like this:

A screenshot of the Content Library of Andrew's Class Notebook in OneNote. The following sections can be seen: All; General Revision Tips; Dr J and Mr H; Macbeth; Poetry Anthology; Unseen Poetry; The History Boys; Language Paper 1; and Language Paper 2.

Within each section, I upload any resources, worksheets, PPTs or booklets that I want students to access. You could also use this space to link to various relevant media, whether images, YouTube videos, or podcast episodes.

Here’s an example from the Macbeth section of what might be included:

A screenshot of the contents of Andrew's Macbeth folder within the Content Library of Class Notebook. The following sub-sections can be seen: Iteracy Questions; Iteracy Forms -- Plot; Mind Maps; Essay Structure; Booklet; Tragedy; Recall Grid; and Full Text.

The ‘All’ section is where I place things that are not text-specific, such as analysis bookmarks or course overviews. When uploading these resources, you can attach them as a file or, as I do, use the ‘printout’ function (found in the Insert tab) that effectively uploads them as a PDF. You can see what this looks like in the way my Macbeth booklet has been displayed above: the entire booklet is a visible PDF.

Reverse Engineering

This is just the name I give to thinking about and using model answers. Given how crucial this is more generally, I have a specific section for storing and sharing all my model responses, whether they are ones I have written or ones I have collected from students.

As with the Content Library, I divide this section into the texts I teach, as below:

A screenshot of the Reverse Engineering section of Andrew's Class Notebook in OneNote. The following sub-sections can be seen: Reverse Engineering -- How it Works; Whole Class Feedback; Unseen Poetry; Macbeth; THB; Dr J and Mr H; Poetry Anthology; Language Paper 1; and Language Paper 2.

The way I upload these is via Office Lens which takes a document photograph of the essay. I can then save it as PDF and send it straight to Class Notebook. I also use this space to store all past paper questions, or ones I’ve created, so that students have easy access to these.

It is also possible to live model or live mark in Class Notebook, either by typing or digitally inking. You can easily share your screen so that students can see you doing this in live time.

Sharing material and reviewing work

Offering feedback

If a significant amount of work is being created and reviewed within Class Notebook, then you can also offer feedback through OneNote too. You can do this by simply typing next to the work (if you’d like to leave personalised comments), by uploading a WCF sheet and making it accessible to students, or even by leaving a voice message next to the work that can then be played by the student, as below:

A screenshot of OneNote showing how to insert an audio message.

The lesson itself

Up until now we’ve mostly considered how to use Class Notebook to support your teaching, but it can be put to use within the lesson itself.

You could, for instance (and rather than using a PPT) organise the content of your lesson directly into Class Notebook, whether it is lesson instructions, Do Now, recall questions, or a worksheet you want to complete with your students. Indeed, a single page could become the worksheet/lesson where you write instructions or include relevant images/text, zooming in and out as necessary during the lesson. This can all be manipulated in real time and your screen shared.

You could also upload a PDF copy of a text and annotate along with students via OneNote (if you have the capacity to digitally ink) rather than use a visualiser, like this:

A screenshot of OneNote highlighting the capacity to digitally annotate a PDF.

Looking ahead…

Whilst Class Notebook and Teams gained national educational prominence during the pandemic, they have a place in classrooms even without the pressures of Covid. Hopefully, this article has outlined just some of the ways it could be used in teaching and the value it may add.

Preparing for a lesson observation can be an anxiety-inducing experience for many teachers. However, with proper planning, support, and organisation, it can also be a valuable opportunity for professional growth and development.

In writing this article I initially wrote down a long list of “dos” and “do nots”. I quickly realised that this approach was somewhat flawed, in that much will be dictated by the individual reader’s stage of development, and the priorities and culture of the school they work in. Therefore, I offer instead a guide to being as ready as you can be!

Agreeing the priorities

The very nature of the observation will vary from school to school, however, when you cut through it all, one commonality emerges – what is the key area you need to develop? This should be discussed with your line manager and agreed in line with the protocols of your school. Some schools may wish you to focus on two or three areas, but if the choice is yours, agree on a single focus, and work on that focus until mastered before moving on. (This is not to say that other areas cannot provide opportunities for insights.) Examples of these foci include:

Note that these are framed as the “what” (e.g. questioning) and the “what for” (e.g. to deepen discussion). This will help keep the focus razor-sharp and purposeful.

Agreeing the lesson observation time and date

Again, depending on the protocols of your school, you may have a lot or very little say in selecting your lesson. If you do have an input, think about this carefully. The choice of lesson can be the difference between a tick-box experience and an incredibly valuable one. Hopefully you have the confidence to embrace a class you are having difficulties with for your observation, so that you can get the support and guidance on the focus for improvement. If permitted, try to get three days to a full weeks’ notice so you have plenty of time to prepare. Last-minute observations can be anxiety-inducing and serve limited purpose in terms of school improvement.

Students putting their hands up to answer a question in class.

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Deciding what to teach and how to teach it

This is easy! Teach whatever you planned to in the first place, in the way you planned to teach it! The observation process should look at the typicality of teaching in your classroom. One-off performance lessons provide no meaningful basis for individual and whole school improvement. Teachers and leaders should be working together, with integrity and honesty, to improve teaching and learning for the betterment of the pupils in the classroom. Therefore, I feel it is vital that observations are completed in line with the expected curriculum and your everyday approach to that class.

Planning for the lesson observation

As with any lesson you must consider the needs of your pupils. Consider the following:

Secondary school teacher providing one-on-one support to a pupil.

My school does not require a specific lesson plan for lesson observations; however, many schools still do, and I for one think they can be a great tool for two reasons:

  1. Preparing a plan allows you to map out the flow of your lesson and potentially predict any areas of difficulty in advance. It allows you to think and plan for questioning, transitions, and timings.
  2. Having a plan printed and ready for your observer provides them with a clear view of what you intended to happen. As we know, lessons tend to deviate from said plans! If the observation is for half the lesson, it also provides a takeaway for the observer so they can get an idea of what went before and what is to follow.

The lesson plan itself will largely depend on the protocols of your school, however, a simple timeline or PowerPoint printout in note form will suffice! An all singing and all dancing word document listing every single event and possibility is a potential drain of your valuable time! Be careful!

It’s all about you!

Lesson observations should be first and foremost about developing you, the teacher! Embrace the opportunity and treat feedback as a gift. Remember, it’s not about being perfect for one lesson, but about providing a high standard to your pupils over a sustained period.

Best of luck!

Whilst working with students with a range of special needs, almost all of them thought they weren’t very good readers. ‘Why?’ I would enquire, then point out all the progress they had made and how pleased myself and the Teaching Assistant were with them.

Try as I might, I could not convince any of them that they were…good.

Why was their self-esteem so low? Why was their confidence so shaky? The data I had collected over the years had shown steady improvement in reading comprehension, understanding of vocabulary and reading age. Empirically, the class had made great strides forward yet they still regarded themselves as poor readers. Was this the subconscious stigma of being in a special school setting? Lack of validation from others? Something else?

The school had been working on diversity. Taking pride in ourselves, what makes us individuals and how all these different parts come together to make the rich tapestry we call life. Pride. That was the key word. I had to make my students proud of their reading achievements. But how?

I decided that it all came down to audience. Reading as a shared, joyful and meaningful experience. No more individual reading now. Reading would be a dialogue, a celebration, an interactive ecstasy of experience.

A pile of children's books.

Initially we decided to explore the books that inspired the students in the first place. What books did they remember first enjoying reading? Why did they enjoy them? What made them memorable?

A whole host of texts were suggested, from ‘The Cat in the Hat’ to ‘The Wonky Donkey’, from ‘Peace at Last’ to ‘Funnybones’. Each student mentioned two or three texts they loved reading and fuelled their imaginations.

A number of these texts were available in the school library. I pretended that I hadn’t heard of one or two and went to pick them up to share with the class. ‘Yes, that’s the one! Read it – you’ll love it! Wait for this, it’s great!’ went the response when I showed a text to the class.

I looked around. These 15 and 16 year olds were waiting, with bated breath, for a slice of something familiar, something nostalgic and something they all knew and loved. Like an old pair of trainers that fit…just right.

That’s not what I gave them. In my best monotone I delivered the text. The faces changed. Quizzical. Disappointed. Outraged.

‘No, no no. The voices!’
‘The voices?’ I replied, bemused.
‘Yes! That’s the way to read it. With voices!’

Feigning ignorance, I was so pleased when the champion of this text bustled forwards, snatched it out of my hands and began to read. With voices.

The class was rapt. This person had remembered the intonation, the timing, the exact method by which this book had been brought alive. An unsolicited round of applause. A nervous smile followed by the book being thrust back into my hands.

‘That’s how you do it.’

Well. I couldn’t disagree. The book which had been Lazarus-like in my hands was now full of life.

A teacher reading to a group of school students.

‘Right,’ I said, taking up the challenge and another text, ‘so this is how you do it.’
Again, I left myself open to challenge and was rebuked. ‘Wrong voice. That’s too young!’
‘Show me how then.’ Again I was put right.

After other examples and all of the class offering opinions and advice I stopped. ‘So. What makes these books good?’ I questioned. ‘Is it the way the words are put together? Are they all funny? Is it the pictures?

Eventually we got there. ‘It’s the way you read them.’
‘So why didn’t you like it when I read them?’
‘You didn’t read it right.’
‘And to read it right, you need to be a…good reader?’
‘So you read it right?’
‘So, you must be…good readers?’

The penny dropped. They were good readers and they knew how to spread the love and enjoyment of that book.

Armed with this new self-realisation and sheen of self-esteem I suggested the next step.  Pairing students from years 7, 8, 9 and even 10 to read together. To share their love of books.

Not everyone was keen or confident. We needed a plan.

I supplied the class with a list of students from lower years. All had been identified as needing support in reading from their class teacher. The students picked their partner. The students picked the texts they would share. The students picked the time they would work together (they decided on first thing in the morning, which made sense to me). The students owned the project.

Two male teenagers reading together and smiling.

We got together – a throng of young people in a classroom only usually for ten or eleven students at most. The energy was palpable. We played language games, throwing a sponge football to each other. We shared jokes and giggles. We broke the ice.

A week after the initial orientation activities we got down to business. Sharing stories, read the right way to students who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Once delivered, the younger partner would read the story back with, very often, the same intonation and understanding.

We are still enjoying the project, three times a week. Without fail. I can see the self-esteem and the love of reading grow. We recently asked some of the students if they wanted to ‘show off’ their reading to other staff, support staff (office and cleaners) and senior leaders. Almost all wanted to do this. The experience was wonderful, and I am sure that if Ofsted want to read with any of these students they will really enjoy it. Student voice was really positive about the scheme.

I am looking forward to seeing the empirical data too!

Throughout my teaching career I have experienced great job satisfaction and fulfilment. Teaching has allowed me the opportunity to create positive change, to instil a love for learning, and to help foster a sense of self-worth, self-belief, and resilience in my pupils.

However, I have also experienced episodes of emotional and physical exhaustion, or ‘burnout’, due to periods of sustained stress, excessive demands, and increasing workload. Throughout my thirty years of service, the profession has changed dramatically, and almost one third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have subsequently left.

As teachers, much of our energy is focused on the needs of our students. But if we are to perform effectively, then we need to prioritise our own self-care. Being aware of potential signs of burnout will enable us to take preventive measures to protect and manage our own mental health.

What is occupational burnout?

Occupational burnout is the result of long term chronic stress in the workplace which negatively impacts physical, mental, and emotional health. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common in the teaching profession and has led to many dedicated teachers deciding to leave and pursue alternative careers. According to the 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index:

Yes, teaching can be a wonderful and rewarding career, but the excessive workload, accountability pressures, and ever-shifting expectations can often make it feel a thankless and draining task.

A burnt out school teacher with his head on the desk.

Recognising the signs of burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process, with many of the symptoms often mistaken for anxiety. Unless addressed, burnout can have severe impacts on both physical and mental health.

Signs you may be experiencing burnout:

Taking action to avoid or manage burnout

Once we recognise and understand the signs of burnout, we can be proactive and put in place simple measures to avoid or manage it.

1. Develop a good work-life balance

First things first, set clear boundaries between school and home life.

During school hours, try to implement time-saving strategies such as live-marking, which will not only reduce your evening workload, but will increase the quality of feedback to students. If you must bring marking home, set aside designated relaxation time. It’s all too easy to let marking or planning take over an evening or an entire weekend.

I can remember spending whole weekends sitting in front of the computer while my husband took the kids to gymnastics and the park. By Sunday evening, I felt exhausted and guilty for not having spent time with my family. And then the emails would start rolling in about the upcoming week’s schedule…

A teacher’s ‘to-do list’ is never ending, but it’s vital to set aside time to relax and unwind. If possible, try to finish work at the same time every day. Have a cut off point (say 7:30 pm) after which exercise books are closed, emails are muted, and school talk is forbidden!

A good work-life balance also includes taking proper lunch breaks (rather than mindlessly eating a sandwich whilst marking books).

Over-the-shoulder view of a woman holding a TV remote and surfing for television programmes.

2. Don’t strive for perfection

This ties in with the previous point. There will always be a myriad of tasks to accomplish, so the key is to prioritise what is the most important and what can wait.

If you’re a perfectionist like me, it’s tempting to spend an entire afternoon writing an hour-long lesson plan, or hours after school creating elaborate classroom displays. I’ve come to realise that perfection simply isn’t feasible in teaching, and it’s okay to aim for ‘good enough’.

3. Learn to say no

Learning to say no is more difficult than it sounds and many teachers struggle with setting boundaries. However, it’s an important skill to develop and will prevent you from overcommitting yourself.

Know your priorities and be realistic about what additional demands you can meet. It might not go down well if you say no to teaching your class, but it is entirely reasonable to say no to extra duties such as lunch break pupil supervision!

4. Support network

Having a support network in place at work, whether it be a trusted colleague or a mix of school staff, can be a real lifesaver when you’re in need of emotional support.

They’ll understand the pressures of the job and be able to relate to any challenges you’re facing, offering a fresh perspective when you’re struggling, feeling frustrated, or just needing a sounding board.

You may have a very understanding partner or great group of friends, but there are only so many times they’ll want to hear you ranting about your workload or disengaged students!

Two teachers chatting and catching up while standing at a printer in the school corridor.

5. Check in on your own mental health

Don’t forget to routinely check in on your own mental health. How are you feeling today? Is there anything worrying you? Are things starting to get on top of you? Do you need to reach out to someone for some extra support?

And remember to pay attention to your physical health. Adopting healthy living habits, such as taking regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining good sleep hygiene, will not only benefit you physically, but also mentally.

It’s all too common for teachers to experience episodes of emotional or physical exhaustion at some point in their career. If you recognise the signs of burnout in yourself (or one of your colleagues) be proactive, seek support, and take action to stop it in its tracks.

I left school with no GCSEs feeling disillusioned, disaffected, and frustrated that there was nobody in leadership roles that looked like me. I entered the teaching profession in 1999 after having studied African History and African Literature at SOAS, followed by a PGCE in History at the Institute of Education, full of hope and optimism that I would be among the change makers!

20+ years on, I find myself still making the call (along with many others) for action to improve representation in our schools; after all representation matters, right?

According to the 2019 workforce census, 85.7% of all teachers in state-funded schools in England were White British (where ethnicity was known) and 92.7% of headteachers were White British. These statistics are at odds with the diverse makeup of young people in schools up and down the country − you just need to look through the school gates from London to Bolton. So, why has this not improved?

A female music teacher and her secondary school class.

Low on the priority list

My view is that we have a government that places education, as well as the need for diverse representation, low on the priority list. This is borne out by the government’s decision to axe millions of pounds of funding for teacher diversity schemes. The Department for Education’s equality and diversity fund (established in 2014) had supported schools to develop solutions to help teachers of protected characteristics progress into leadership. However, in 2020, the decision was made to end the scheme with no plans to reintroduce it later on down the line.

Importance of diverse representation

So why do I continue to raise this as an issue? Well, clearly because those who have the power and funding to do so are not, but most importantly, because I know first hand as a black Headteacher of an all girls school in Mill Hill, North West London, what it means for my students to see staff that look like them: staff that can have those diverse, engaging, and empathetic conversations with students; staff that can relate to their histories, their journeys, and those of their parents.

With diverse representation in schools, we elevate the voices of our young people, who come forward with pride and are keen to talk about where they are from and what it means to them. When our curriculum is teaching students about artists from Afghanistan and writers from Bangladeshi backgrounds, it means something to them. It means that they can see and learn about people who may look like them and indeed, people who they may well aspire to become. It also enables all students, regardless of their backgrounds, to see the wealth of diverse knowledge, skills and experiences that exist, and the people who make up the diverse tapestry of the world today.

A diverse group of school students in a science classroom.

I write this at a time when the number of teacher training applications are plummeting and we are in the eye of the storm of a teacher retention and recruitment crisis, making the call for action on representation in the classroom even harder. But in not doing so, we will have come full circle with people like me leaving school feeling disillusioned that there are few teachers and school leaders that they can relate to.

The way forward

So, how do we do this? There are a number of grassroots organisations that have taken up the mantel like Aspiring Heads (@AspiringHeads) and Diverse Educators (@DiverseEd2020). You also have the bigger voices like Teach First (@TeachFirst) and the work that ASCL (@ASCL_UK) are doing to make sure their equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) policies are front and centre of their strategic plans. In addition to this, there are individuals like me, who will continue to use their platforms and their positions of privilege to keep raising this issue, because now more than ever #representationmatters.

Rightly or wrongly, it is the word that fills so many teachers, leaders, and governors with dread. Ofsted. So how can we prepare for that inevitable call? In this article, I aim to use my own experiences to guide classroom teachers in their preparations for the inspection, so that you can show yourself, and your school, in its best light!

High expectations for every pupil, every day

Our pupils deserve a high-quality education. This can only be achieved if three partners work in perfect cohesion: parents/carers, the pupil, and school staff. Our job as teachers is to affect our part of this triad by ensuring high quality equitable implementation of the curriculum, providing high challenge to learners of all academic abilities, and holding pupils to account. The last point can only be achieved if pupils are 100% clear on the expectations placed upon them. Therefore, they need to be simple to follow and over communicated clearly. Some questions to consider here include:

This is not an exhaustive list but illustrates the depth and complexity of the term “high expectations”.

A male secondary school teacher standing next to an interactive whiteboard and teaching a lesson to his pupils.

Work to policy: behaviour

Much of what is said here builds upon the previous section, in terms of having high expectations of pupil behaviour. Now, whether your school has good behaviour or more challenging behaviour, there is one word that is paramount: consistency. In my own school, consistency is driven by a centralised behaviour system. If you employ a similar system, are you adhering to the policy perfectly? Do you have scripted warnings that pupils clearly understand? Are parents contacted at the appropriate times?

Many schools still run more localised behaviour systems. Whilst this can be more work for individual teachers, it can also give more “ownership” of behaviour resolution to the teachers at the centre of it. This can be really empowering − if it doesn’t become overwhelming. In these instances, consistency is even more challenging to achieve as it is you who will be making the calls home and arranging (and possibly running) the detention.

Whichever system best fits your current school, the central word is the same: consistency, consistency, consistency.

Work to policy: marking

Despite some of the many myths out there, Ofsted has no preference in terms of marking and feedback policies (Ofsted 2018, p.2). What is important, however, is that whatever your policy is, it must be adhered to. In my view this should be realistic, manageable, and take into consideration teacher wellbeing. Books need to be looked at, and feedback must be provided and acted upon. Without the latter, there is no point in the former! As a classroom teacher, you will be expected to mark and give feedback according to policy. If this is an area you are struggling with, do not hide from it! Seek out the support of a colleague or a line manager. Do not allow problems to build up quietly, only for them to then come out in the worst possible way during an Ofsted book-look or deep dive.

A female teacher sat at her desk and marking a piece of work.

Know your safeguarding

Safeguarding is the single most important aspect of any inspection, and rightly so. There are several documents that you should keep a hard copy of, and refer to regularly, to keep your knowledge of safeguarding in schools (and your role within it) up to date. These include:

You may have noticed that none of this advice is specifically about the inspection day itself, but more about the day-to-day of teaching − this is deliberate. Teachers should not be spending hours the night before an Ofsted inspection preparing extra resources, lesson plans, or rehearsing scripts for their classrooms. The high expectations, good routines and positive relationships should already be in place! This is what it is all about. An Ofsted inspection should provide you, as a classroom teacher, with an opportunity to show inspectors what is typical in your classroom.

So don’t wait for the call. Set the bar high every single day. Afterall, this is exactly what our pupils deserve and exactly what Ofsted will want to see.

In the two years since joining Twitter, I have gained more subject knowledge and accessed more beneficial CPD than in the previous ten. There are huge numbers of teachers, support workers and educationalists on the platform. Many are very supportive, keen to discuss teaching and share their subject knowledge, experiences and resources.

Here are some of my top tips to maximise your experience of #EduTwitter!

1. Choose a handle

You need to decide from the outset whether you want to be easily identified on the platform, or whether a degree of anonymity is desired. Lots of people who work in education have handles (their username for Twitter) like MissSmytheArt or similar, whilst others use pseudonyms.

2. Fill in your profile

Once you have created your account, make sure you fill in your profile, including the type of institution you work in, subjects taught/supported, and any other relevant information (for example pedagogical interests).

3. Use Twitter search

Use the Twitter search function to find posts that appeal to you and start following users whose posts you find particularly interesting/useful. Initially, good use of search keywords is the most effective way to find users and content that you’re interested in. Perhaps you’re looking for resources on Macbeth. If you search for “Macbeth” and “”, “dropbox”, or another file sharing platform, you will often immediately find what you’re looking for.

4. Be aware of Twitter bots

Lots of people will follow back once you have followed them. This is more likely if you have filled in your profile − there are lots of ‘bots’ on the platform which are essentially dummy accounts with little to no followers.

5. Follow, follow, follow

When you have found and followed users who produce interesting content, it’s an idea to see who they are following. Chances are they will follow others in the same or similar roles/fields. You can add them to your following list, which will tailor what comes up in your Twitter feed.

Two teachers sitting at a table in their school library and looking at a mobile phone.

6. Search relevant hashtags

People often use hashtags in their posts. Early on it’s useful to identify and search for these to reach the content that you desire. Examples include #edutwitter, #pedagogy, #iteach_____ etc.

7. Like, comment & Retweet

Like posts you have enjoyed or found interesting. A short, positive comment on posts can be very much appreciated by other users. Also, Retweets help spread messages to other users within your community.

8. Create your own Tweets

Don’t be afraid to create posts yourself. You will get more out of #edutwitter by engaging with others. If you have queries, thoughts, doubts, or just want to discuss anything to do with education, there are lots of users out there who will be happy to chat with you. If you add handles of users within your posts, they will see the post when they next log in.

9. Use hashtags

Including hashtags in your educational posts will make it easier for others to find your content.

10. Always think twice

A rule of thumb which many successful Twitter users have is that they only post comments which they would be happy to say in person. There is a darker side to the platform − like any social media − and it is best avoided, particularly if your account is linked to your profession.

11. Use Block and Mute functions

Initially, it can be hard to filter your Twitter feed so that you only get updates on posts that interest you. This is where the Block and Mute functions come in useful. You can block users by clicking on the three horizontal dots on their profile and scrolling down the list. This is important for privacy. In addition, you can lock your account so only followers can see your posts. However, this will limit the number of users who can see your posts. The Mute function − accessed from the same menu as the Block function − can be used to hide posts from users who you follow, who prolifically post content which you are not interested in reading. There is also a function whereby you can mute certain words which will also help tailor your experience. This can be found in the privacy settings for your account.

Enjoy #EduTwitter. I hope you find it useful!