James Nottingham 'The Learning Challenge'

I strongly recommend that if ever you have an opportunity to see James present, take it. By morning tea time, in fact, just a few sentences in, you will be inspired. You will be challenged. You will reflect on your practice. You will make positive change.

What can I do, as a teacher, as a leader, to get my students, to get my teachers, to make more steps in their learning?

  • Wear a 'pedagogical pedometer'.

What culture do we want to set?

  • Reflect on the teachers you had at school. Who motivated you? Who's class did you enjoy being in? Why?

  • In Sweden 1/3 of the learning time in colleges for 16-18 year olds is focused on teaching entrepreneurial skills: seek the problems; identifying mistakes; learning from failure; encouraging risk and a culture of mistakes are okay so long as we learn from them.

  • In assemblies do you focus on the winning teams and congratulate them? Do you focus on them when they lose? Do you give certificates to those who come first, second, third? What about the student who came 140th last year, but came 80th this year?

The easy path vs. the interesting path

  • If no mistakes are happening in your class say, "Sorry, I made it too easy, let's make it more interesting!" ie. challenging.

  • Try this in your class -

  • "I’m going to be looking around the classroom for the mistakes we can learn most from. If you don’t know how to do it, have a go and don’t be afraid to make a mistake." Gather examples we can learn from. We are not celebrating mistakes, but we are not scared to make them and when we do make them, we learn from them.

  • Girls seem to worry about making mistakes even more so than boys. Boys tend to get energised by mistakes and the problem solving or challenge involved to solve the problem. Make your expectations fair and equitable for boys and girls. Reflect on this:

  • BOYS - If you try... (in the classroom as much as you do on the football field) and you focus, then... (imagine how well you will do! … (But) It’s up to you.... Compared to...

  • GIRLS - Good girl. Well done.


  • What do students think teachers value? Uniforms? Good behaviour? Or learning from mistakes? Taking positive risks? Enjoying challenge?

  • Ask the students, ‘What do your teachers value? What do they like?’

“All our teachers care about is what we look like. Every time we see them all they do is comment on our uniform.” How much do teachers who only focus on uniform undo it all (the hard work the teachers put in to teaching and learning) by focusing on those trivial sorts of things. It gives the impression that that is what teachers care about.

Try commenting to the students on their learning instead of uniform and other trivialities. Try ‘What’s the ‘desirable difficulty’ you’ve had today? Have you been in the pit today?!

  • What are we doing in our school to show what we value?

  • Does this show on the walls of our classrooms?

  • How is this shown through what we say and how we respond to our students?

  • Do a 'walk through' and share what is happening.

Do we 'rescue' students? Are we being 'helicopters' or 'curler sweepers'? Are we encouraging 'learned helplessness'? Take time to look at Carol Dweck's original PhD on animals, and what happens when we provide them with everything they need. Dweck then continued her work on to her growth mindset work and the power of 'yet'.

This is only a snippet of James' presentation and it cannot do justice to what you and your staff will get out of attending a day with James yourself.

Incredible. Thank you James and we hope to see you back again!

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