The magical actions that make a difference are close to nothing at all

‘The magical actions that make a difference are close to nothing at all’ (Poynton, 2019).

These words have been imprinted on my soul since I read them in Do Pause. They’ve provided a cause for pause in many aspects of my life but not least of all as a result of my visits to school classrooms over the last year both in person and through hours spent reviewing the resulting video footage. I once thought that the magic was to be found in the big things, the important things, the impossible things. It was where we spent our time, conversations and meetings when I worked in colleges. I’ve since learned that it was actually in the smaller things where the difference was really to be made. Teaching is an art, a craft and a science at once and these snapshots capture some of the magic to be found no matter the context.

It’s in the hand the Spanish teacher holds up in the direction of a pupil’s incessantly tapping toe on the chair in front of them. It’s in the mouthed thank you and warm smile she gives after a pupil corrects her posture and attention.

It’s in the geography teacher’s voice as he inserts a ‘close your books’ as he counts 4. It’s in the history teacher’s voice as declares, ‘pens down’ at 3. It’s in the English teacher’s voice as she requests ‘silence’ in 2. It’s in the science teacher’s voice as she inserts an ‘eyes on me’ as she counts 1.

It’s in the Y4 teacher’s eyes as she scans her group for signs of the pupils who have mastered their sums enough to move into a new group. It’s in her questions as she asks, ‘How did you get there?’ ‘How many hundreds?’ ‘And tens?’ ‘And ones?’ It’s in her voice as she asks curiously, ‘Why can’t I start with the hundreds?’ It’s in her repeated modelling in new ways until every pupil has got it enough to disembark the carpet.

It’s in the Y5 teacher writing ‘sp’ next to a word she’s just written on the board to predict and therefore go some way to prevent an error pupils may make in their own work when they get there.

It’s in the Computing teacher’s unrelenting questioning of ‘How do you know?’ ‘Why will I not do that?’ ‘Why didn’t I?’ ‘Why did I?’ ‘Why did you do x rather than y?’

It’s in the eyes of a Y6 Teaching Assistant as she checks that a pupil is making the right choice. It’s in the pupil’s fist punching the air as she has supported him to ‘get it’.

It’s in the maths teacher’s choice to circulate as pupils complete their practice on their whiteboards instead of observing from the front; swooping in to request the display of a couple so that she can address some of the most common misconceptions in the room.

It’s in the science teacher’s movements as, red pen in hand, she circulates the room to give a little praise, a flick of the wrist, an encouraging nod or words of a nudge in the right direction.

It’s in the Y1 teacher’s turn of her chair as she emerges as an alien for phonics practice of alien words. It’s in her spin of her chair as she turns back into Miss and in the children’s resulting joyful and incredulous screams of, ‘you just turned into an alien!’

It’s in the warm toast, and freshly made hot drinks made for teachers in Liverpool and Gateshead staffrooms. It’s in the cacophony of conversation that results from teachers as they set down their bodies for a brief catch-up with colleagues in between lessons; there’ll not be an empty staff room to be found around here but there’ll still be a quieter corner for teachers who might need the respite from the buzz of a school.

It really can be the smallest of things that make the greatest of differences.

‘The magical actions that make a difference are close to nothing at all’ (Poynton, 2019)

Poynton, R (2019) Do Pause: you are not a to do list, The Do Book Company
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