On the Keys to the Cell

What is the future of education? What would the ideal school look like? Will schools even exist in 100 years? 200 years? 1000?

The only reasonable answer must be somewhere close to “we don’t really know”.

However, if there was one thing, just one, we could change right now, some aspect that we can control, what might that be? Well, John Hattie has been researching this issue for some time with his now infamous meta-analyses of educational research. Here is the most updated list of effect sizes, in rank order. Leaving aside the technicalities and possible criticisms of the methodology, what conclusions can we draw from the latest ranking? To me, I walk way with one over-riding thought:


To unpack this a little, here are the mindsets we can control, right now, and know we are making a positive difference for student learning:

  • We must believe we have the resources required to be as successful as we wish to be, even if sometimes we need to go digging for them.
  • The first step to achievement, for ourselves and our students, is a ceaseless expectation of it.

So, my one upgrade to school, today? Let’s relentlessly visualise and expect excellence. Let’s have a shared understanding that we hold ourselves accountable for this on a daily basis, and through this mindset, spread an expectation for excellence to our students, to our colleagues, to our school, beyond our schools. The corollary to this, of course, is the resilience to embrace imperfection. In fact, it’s perhaps why being brave enough to fail is so important – it gives us permission to hold exceptional expectations.

So, as I start to look to next year, I will ask everyone that will listen:

Excellence image

The belief alone, in the very possibility of achieving more, will be self-fulfilling.

Together, let’s look down, notice that we hold the key to the prison cell, fit it to the lock and turn.




3 thoughts on “On the Keys to the Cell

  1. Hi Phil,
    Thanks for sharing this. Yes, mindsets are keys to the castle, and they are keys we carve out ourselves. I wonder if our students think we anticipate excellence from them? Is that the tone we set?

    I’d be interested in listing the ways we communicate expectations. Here’s what I can muster on my first cup of coffee:

    *Setting the scene: what do our classrooms communicate? Is this your space to be creative? Or, is this space just…well a layover zone?

    *Are the assessments stretching each and ever single student? Do we believe everyone has room for growth, or just a few?

    *Do teachers try new things? Do we believe life long learning is an expectation for all, or simply some?

    *Do we acknowledge that excellence is achieved with a golden blend of collaboration and personal reflection time?

    *Is there flexibility within our courses to allow for students to drive, and inquiry to thrive?

    Thanks for sparking these questions.
    Kind Regards,


  2. A formidable challenge, Phil. To visualize and expect excellence every day. To sometimes fail in its pursuit. To pick yourself up the next day and do it all over again. Let’s do this!!


  3. Hi Phil – this was a really inspirational piece. I love “In fact, it’s perhaps why being brave enough to fail is so important – it gives us permission to hold exceptional expectations.” We try to get kids to do this all the time and often negatively comment on the pupils who want to succeed so much that they do not push themselves, they do not allow themselves to fail. I think we as teachers should be modelling this and I guess there is no better way than in the attempt to change/develop/improve they way we teach! All we need now is to get on with it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s