Top Twelve Tips

Recently, I have been asked by a few people and organisations what advice and tips I would give to other Headteachers/Superintendents/Principals?

It has taken a while to draw up the list. Initially I intended a ‘Top Ten Tips‘ but narrowing the list down to ten proved difficult!  Instead I settled for ‘Top Twelve Tips‘.

Some may seem obvious to the more experienced School leader but I hope at least one helps and I also hope that there is agreement with most of the points on the list. For the more recently appointed Headteachers or educators hoping to lead a school one day, I hope this list is useful.

Top Twelve Tips (for School leaders)

1. Be the first in and last out of school (on most days).  Expect to work 50+ hour weeks – it is the job!

2. Never delegate a job that you would not do yourself.

3. Teach! At least 20% of the teaching allotment and if possible more. This is our passion, this is why we came into the profession.  So show your talent, model your ability and teach away!

4. Listen…actively.

5. Do what you say – See EVERY job through (or at least acknowledge when it is not possible).

6. Maintain the FOCUS: What is the best for the Students?

7. Organise: Fail to plan, plan to fail. Break things down and stay on top of things.

8. Stick to the school vision, mission and philosophy: do not let the small hiccups affect this.  Always remember the big picture and do not worry about the smaller issues that occur in between.

9. Be a role model in all aspects of school life (teaching, dress code, behaviour, be fair, be honest etc – everything!).

10. Have a life – switch off – have holidays (but you will need to check emails periodically!)

11. Network:  Have a family/community of Headteachers, be known and be helpful to others.

12. Know your stuff: Read read and read!

Yasir Patel

Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning and learning outside the classroom is intended to offer children experiences that are not easily achieved indoors, in the day-to-day environment.  It is intended to provide sensory stimuli, lead to greater levels of creativity and allow children to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding without the constraints of the traditional classroom.

There is convincing research that suggests good quality learning outside the classroom adds significant value to students’ learning. In 2004, Michael Reiss (a Science professor) and Martin Braund (an honorary fellow at the University of York and an adjunct professor in Cape Town, South Africa) published a book about the importance of out-of-school learning called Learning Outside the Classroom.  Research from the book was later published in the International Journal of Science in 2006, which highlights several arguments on why science classes should go on meaningful field trips. More information can be found on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website.

In a more recent study conducted by Play in Balance and commissioned by Persil, 45% of the 12000 parents polled stated that they wanted their child to have activities outside.  Furthermore, three-quarters of 6 to 11 years-olds spend less time outside (in non-school time) than the daily hour recommended for prison inmates by the UN.  In fact, yesterday (Friday 17th June) was Empty Classroom Day!  A 2005 study by the American Medical Association found that Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.” There is also some scientific evidence that the wilderness can reduce hyperactivity and has a soothing effect on children, especially those suffering from attention deficit disorder. 

Sir Ken Robinson, a leading educator, educational researcher and a big advocate of bringing creativity into the curriculum (see his famous TED talk ‘Schools Kill Creativity’), has pointed out how important it is for human beings to be outside, playing and engaging with nature.   TV presenter and author Ben Fogle has encouraged the British government to focus on student wellbeing and connecting children with the natural world, instead of pumping valuable time and money into exams.  Juliet Robertson, author of Dirty Teaching points out how activities away from the classroom gives pupils freedom to make decisions about their own learning and is incredibly empowering for them.

Some schools, such as Long Crendon School in England have gone further and created a curriculum that revolves around outdoor education.  The Headteacher Sue Stamp claims outdoor learning is “a way of life”.  The whole ethos of Long Crendon is to be outdoors as much as possible, despite the English weather!

The research (Trost 2009: Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance and Active Living Research in 2015) around the importance of physical education and sports cannot be understated. Some of the conclusions include:

● Physically active and fit children tend to have better academic achievement, better school attendance and fewer disciplinary problems.

● Allocating time for daily physical education does not hurt academic performance, and regular exercise may improve students’ concentration and cognitive functioning.

● Physical activity breaks can improve cognitive performance and classroom behaviour.

● In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardised test scores.

● Regular participation in physical activity has academic performance benefits.

● Single sessions of physical activity can enhance attention and memory.

● The effects of physical activity on brain health may explain improvements in academic performance.

Schools should look into ways of enriching the curriculum for students which involves taking learning outdoors, increasing physical education and sport.  This could be a simple lesson outside or a full week away in another country.  High Effort?  Yes, Effective? Yes, High Impact?  Yes, Memorable?  Definitely!

Yasir Patel

Technology Anxiety!

With the growing use of technology and the rapid pace of change, a natural question arises for all parents, teachers and child carers:

How can I support my child/student? 

Parents and educational institutions should accept that it is pointless to block access to websites, apps etc. That would be a fruitless exercise and would not teach responsibility, independence nor would it be educating young minds.  Children will normally find a way to circumvent any software or device that restricts access and as often happens, are the ‘experts’ and parents tend to be the ‘digital immigrants’.

The key is to educate, communicate, have open discussions about everything, even the most awkward of topics (such as porn, drugs etc) and make children feel that they can approach us with difficult situations. Combined with some common sense ‘checks’, this seems to be the best way forward. With all this in mind, we need to have faith in children to make the right choices.

Some of the aforementioned common sense tips (and software) included:

  • Role model the type of behaviour we expect from our children with respect to the use of technology (e.g. no phones at the dinner table, restricted usage of phones when outside etc)
  • Educational institutions should minimise any firewalls and normally this would include blocking access to porn websites.  Instead rely on strong programmes that educate children with the use of technology and digital citizenship
  • Parents should share information with each other, constantly collaborating. Schools should be happy to receive information and distribute it to its community
  • Watch movies with children that relate to both the benefits and dangers of technology. Allow children to reflect, often with the right choice of movie, no discussion is even needed
  • Use of Apple Family Sharing to restrict what apps are downloaded (Snapchat and Ask are often raised as concerns due to the anonymous user settings), track childrens’ location and various other benefits.
  • Use of Windows 10 to monitor internet usage and create scheduled reports. Apple iOS has similar functionality built within it.

With education, mature conversations and the right amount of trust, responsibility, and discussion, we can all use technology to our advantage.  Do not let technology be the dividing factor between you and your child/student.

Yasir Patel

Music and Learning


“My child listens to music whilst working, surely they cannot learn like that?”

Music affects our feelings and energy levels.  Often unknowingly, we use music to create desired moods; to make us happy, to provoke thoughts, to dance, to feel more energetic, to bring back powerful memories, to help us relax and focus.  Music is a powerful tool for our personal expression and it helps “set the scene” for many important experiences.  Much research also supports the fact that music greatly affects and enhances our learning.

Some areas where music helps are:

  • Creating an Active Learning Experience:  Music activates students mentally, physically and emotionally.  It helps to create an environment of learning that enhances understanding.  
  • Focus and Attention:  Music can help concentration levels for certain learners.  Baroque music, such as those composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, where there are 50 to 80 beats per minute helps to maintain focus.
  • Memory and Retention:  Songs, chants, raps etc help students to memorise content.  This is done through rhyme, melody and rhythm.
  • Motivation:  Music in the background helps with motivating students to learn and continue learning.  
  • Creativity and Thinking:  Background music stimulates internal processing, that in turn facilitates creativity.  This encourages personal reflection.
  • Community:  Music provides a positive environment that encourages students to work together and in teams

Of course the type of music is important and vital.  Baroque music (Bach and Vivaldi) and Classical (Mozart and Beethoven) are recommended as is ‘soft’ music (soundtracks with no words).    Research from Stanford University has found that humans do better on learning and memory tests after listening to particular music by Mozart (called the Mozart Effect as coined by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in the 1990s).  Benjamin Gold, a researcher at McGill University looked at Reinforcement Learning (e.g. studying notes, revising for a test etc) and concluded that “most significantly, non-musicians tended to learn better when they enjoyed the background music, but those with more musical training learned better when the music was neutral.”  

More recent studies (by Dr. Emma Gray) have shown that for Sciences, Humanities and Languages, music by artists such as Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus (songs with 50-80 beats per minute) help process factual information and solve problems.  When studying Mathematics, classical music was found to be the best choice (60-70 beats per minute) and for students studying English, Drama or Art, it is recommended to listen to emotive rock and pop songs such as Firework by Katy Perry or I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) by The Rolling Stones.

As with many studies, a counter-argument does exist.  This has been presented by Nick Penham and Joanne Vizard, who conclude that, “listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition.”  

Yasir Patel


Moral Courage

Written on Friday 20th November, 2015:

As school ended last Friday, terrible news broke in France, but sadly, it was not dissimilar to incidents that are happening every day in other parts of the world.  The attacks, we know, were horrific and extremely saddening – all the more so because they seem closer to home. We all know Paris, or know of it through friends.  It was a reminder that we live at a time of discord and hatred, much of which seemed far away though now much closer.  A complex range of emotions were no doubt felt by the community as is normal following such devastating acts of violence.

What do we do as international schools?  How do we explain this to our children?  How do we react?

It is time for moral courage in our response.  All international schools must be aware of the social impact attacks like this can have and their effect on others.  This begins in our immediate surroundings and around our school.  It can, should and does go way beyond in creating a positive impact in our world.  How deep that impact is, depends on our intentions.   At times like these, we must go beyond academia, beyond bickering, beyond first world complaints, and seek to create a positive impact in our world as deeply and with the best intentions we can.

Many schools have a vision statement that talks about lifelong learning and participating in the global community.  It also talks about having an open mind and being willing to listen and change your opinion.

We should want students (and our community) leaving our schools as young adults to influence the world by making decisions with moral direction.  This is a necessary long-term strategy.  However, we must acknowledge the here and now too.  What are we doing to make the world a better place now?  We should consider everything at our disposal, from facilities to technology to purchasing power.  How can we use all these various aspects of our lives in order to enable a situation of reconstruction and reconciliation for “the other”?

We must encourage civil, harmonious and peaceful attitudes towards each other.  A critical mind is required in times like these; ask the Why? What? Maybe? questions, which may be tough and initially not seem harmonious and peaceful.  But honesty in asking them, with love for each other, seems a positive and genuine way forward.  

Friday was and still is scary, discomforting and we enter an unknown, both physically and emotionally wary.  However, the unknown brings excitement, discovery and possible solutions to the discomfort both now and in the long term.  We need to be bold in our aim for equity, justice, peace and a better world for our children and their children.  

The International Baccalaureate’s Mission states that the organisation aims to create young people:

  • who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

The time is now.  Our impact needs to be felt now.  

I am sure you will join me in expressing our sorrow at the events in Paris last Friday, as well as similar suffering around the world.

Yasir Patel

Investing in the Mind

 “The public has learned that instant answer giving is the most important sign of an educated man”

-Neil Postman-

Nowadays, ‘answers’ are too easy to find.  How often have you seen somebody reach for their phone when a question is posed?  Instant answers, rather than thoughtful consideration or well thought-out, better questions, seem to be the new measure of success. But instant answers usually measure just two things: the ability to memorise or the access to technology.  Think Facebook posts, Tweets from Twitter, Whatsapp messages, Blogs etc – how many are carefully thought out and posted, tweeted or sent?

The reality (and we must acknowledge this) is that we all think we have the ‘answers’!  Usually these ‘answers’ are on our phones, tablets or computers via the internet.  However, how many people truly have the ability (or desire) to ask the right questions or analyse the answers they receive?  Separating fact from fiction has always been a vital skill.  Nowadays, there is another equally important skill – the ability to identify relevant information within these so-called facts.

Of course, it is not about the devices that we have.  Most people have access to technology, but the more we seem to invest in the latest and best technology, the less we seem to be investing in the most amazing gadget:  our minds.

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom”

-Isaac Asimov-

Critical thinking is the ability to ask effective questions and formulate original solutions.  It is self-directed, self-monitored and self-corrective.  It is not easy and requires self-discipline in order to allow one to question new information and continuously analyse the results.  A word of caution: this is not an optional skill in the 21st century!  We must all (and encourage our children to do so) ask the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, remembering that in most cases there are more than two faces to each coin!

Within education, children are finding traditional educational models less and less relevant to their lives and the ever-changing world around them.  Schools can do better, they must do better. Schools must make learning skills more important than memorisation skills.  Courses like Theory of Knowledge, Learning to Learn and the constructivist classroom (as proposed by many, including John Dewey) are one way to bring relevance to our students.  The curriculum also plays a big part as do families.  Let’s  support each other in this important aspect of our lives and continue investing in your childrens minds.

A serious problem right now is the gap between our skill and our wisdom. Today, deep reflection about our future circumstances is eclipsed by the rush to build faster, cheaper, smarter, more-efficient gadgets.  Society’s best brains are saturated with immediate issues that become ever more complex, rather than reflecting on why we are doing this and what the long-term consequences will be.

-James Martin, Oxford University-

The ability to learn, practice, and analyse is at the heart of critical thinking, which is the key to closing the wisdom gap.

A lot of innovation is needed to solve the serious problems we face in this world (global warming, economic crises, food and water shortages). Additionally, the very quick changes and developments in technology not only make it ever so important to learn newer skills, but also that we are continually assessing the results and impacts of new traits and initiatives. This ability to learn, practice, and analyse is at the heart of critical thinking, which many consider the key to closing the wisdom gap in our country.

Yasir Patel