A Leap, Small Steps & Sense of Balance

Are you sitting comfortably?  It is allowed (see later in this blog). Then I’ll begin – with a leap and some small steps, but keeping a sense of balance.


We currently operate in an educational climate that is rightly focused on ensuring new practice is based on research and evidence that shows improved outcomes for our children. However, as a result, leaders and teachers can easily be overwhelmed by the best direction to evolve teaching and learning in their school to actually achieve this.

The answer, I believe is simple – the best outcomes for children will be achieved by excellent and highly skilled teachers who, day in day out, have the highest expectations of ALL the children they have the privilege to work with. How this should be achieved is where things get a little more complicated.  I’m not going to get into traditionalist vs progressive approaches, as I believe that both have and will continue to have their place in helping children fulfil their potential.

To fulfil their potential, surely – regardless of the means – is what we all want for the children with whom we work. But how do we measure a child’s potential? Now that is a question – with a response that involves the absence of glass ceilings!

Personal Philosophy

My philosophy, and that of Move & Learn, has changed over time – influenced by research, inspirational CPD, phenomenal practitioners, and experience in the classroom with children that continue to defy and rise above the circumstances placed before them (and I’m not just talking about testing).

It all began with assessment for learning (and my research into Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam’s work), ensuring that children were not passengers in their learning journey.  I built my whole approach to teaching on this philosophy, trying to make sure that children were ‘actively’ involved in every lesson taught.  None of what I did was ground-breaking (or original!) – modelling and success criteria, effective questioning and discussion at key points in the lesson, feedback to help move the learner on – but all ensuring that the children were working harder (and more importantly learning) more than me!   

I continued to reflect on and evolve my practice – taking feedback on board from leaders, other staff and the way different children responded and the impact this had over time. The areas of assessment for learning that I felt needed work on in the classroom were:

  • activating students as instructional resources for each other
  • activating students as owners of their own learning

Jerry Maguire

And then came my Jerry Maguire moment.  Learning is not one dimensional and the related environment(s) should be dynamic in order to respond to the children’s needs.  This meant not having one fixed classroom layout, and allowing children to move (with instruction and a clear purpose) to enhance their learning.  Yes – children need boundaries, but surely education is about teachers helping them push those boundaries in different ways, to find a path where they can excel?  Or as Dylan Wiliam puts it when referring to assessment for learning:

“The ‘big idea’ that ties these together is that we use evidence of student learning to adapt teaching and learning, or instruction, to meet student needs.”  

For me, part of this is recognising that too much sedentary time elicits passive responses (and not just from children), and whilst engagement does not necessarily equal learning it is a really positive starting point!

Move & Learn is not about gimmicks and it is not about throwing out practice that works with the children you know. It is about 3 things:

The Leap

This will be a bigger jump for some than for others.  But it does involve recognising the wide ranging research that shows how physical activity can support children’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  We are designed to move, and we believe this can be incorporated into learning whilst maintaining the highest standards of behaviour. As with all learning attitudes, it is about high expectations, excellent relationships and a clear model created and evolved with the children. To achieve this, it is vital to take…

Small Steps

We want to change the world but in a ‘Neil Armstrong’ way – one small step at a time.  We recognise the enormous pressures teachers are under but want them to ask the question – “is there a better way?” Can I incorporate movement into one lesson (or even part of one lesson) every week and see the impact it has on the children I teach Does this mean getting the children to run relays whilst reciting times tables – no.  In fact, feedback from teachers I’ve worked with is that we shouldn’t make Physically Active Learning (PAL) be seen as a special thing for the children. Instead, it should become an integral part of their learning and be used when appropriate.

This means challenging our own practice and exploring the best practice of others to consider ways to incorporate physical activity into a purposeful and structured learning environment.  For example, part way through a writing task, I would get children to “magpie” an idea related to the success criteria from 2 different children in a given period of time before they returned to their own independent task?  This led to movement (in a small way) and purposeful learning, as the children relished opportunities to support and learn from each other.   

One concern levelled by teachers is that movement around the classroom impacts on their ability to effectively manage behaviour.  That is why we recommend small steps, as with any learning, the children need to see how it should be done and what expectations you have of them in doing it!   If you’re willing to try and need support – that’s why we’ve created our website.  Join the movement and benefit from the best practice (what works well and what needs a rethink – it’s all part of the learning process!) of those who are ready to Move & Learn.  

A Sense of Balance

Move and Learn is not about movement in every minute of every lesson.  Children will still need independent time at their desks (sitting or standing) and, dare I say it, sedentary time to reflect. In fact, the balance of movement and being still is vital in the 21st century world that our children will be shaping.  Let’s teach them to be active participants in learning and life, whilst recognising the need to regularly take a step back and reflect.  Let’s help them reflect on their achievements and how to find the right pathway in a world where it seems that decisions now need to be made instantaneously.  

I hope you do not judge our ‘movement’ too quickly. Ask questions, challenge – and together let’s find the best way forward for all the children we teach. After all, their potential knows no bounds – so why should our teaching?

As Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears”.

About the Author

Ian Holmes is Headteacher at Thorner Primary School.  Physical activity and the related benefits sit at the heart of his school culture and ethos. Ian leads a school that aims to be an inspirational place to learn and play. Movement-based learning is currently being trialled with specific classes to instil confidence in these methods and demonstrate the positive impact on teaching and learning for all.

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