Dylan Wiliam’s Lecture and “Sharing Good Practice”

July 30, 2012

The following talk from Dylan Wiliam is rather interesting. He is the man behind the AfL craze and tends to have a lot of interesting ideas, although I’ve been sceptical about the implementation ever since I watched “The Classroom Experiment” some time ago.

Of particular interest is the section on “sharing good practice” where he makes a good case against sharing good practice.

I think sharing good practice is actually a very dangerous idea. I think it’s completely overblown. I think if you want to learn how to write a timetable going to see how another school does it is quite useful. If you want to find out about how to organise a 3 year key stage 4 then again visiting another school and sharing good practice is a good idea. But the danger is that those things have small effects. The thing that has big effects is changing teaching and, in changing teaching, sharing good practice is a fundamental distraction because teachers are like magpies. They love picking up shiny little ideas from one classroom; taking it back to their classroom;  trying it once, and then moving on to the next shiny idea. We don’t need to share good practice. Most teachers have enough good ideas to last a lifetime.

This is the exact opposite of what so much CPD in schools suggests and yet I think most experienced teachers would immediately see the truth in this. I spend a lot of time complaining that we get presented with (supposedly) new ideas that simply aren’t any good, but we should actually question whether we should even have been looking for new ideas in the first place, rather than evaluating, prioritising and perfecting our existing methods.



  1. Dylan Wiliam is bang on with this. All the evidence shows that simply ‘sharing good practice’ leads to superficial and temporary changes in teaching. The relatively easy part is finding new ideas, the much harder part is to admit that some of your previous ideas and teaching habits were wrong. Even harder than that is to do the tough work to change the way you teach, even in the incredibly high-stress environment of the classroom where it’s much easier to fall back of previously established routines and habits. On top of all of this, teachers need the time and resources to engage with, experiment with and understand the theory that underpins new ideas. This is exactly the work of the Teacher Development Trust – we’re trying to encourage schools to recognise the difficulty of changing teacher habits and engage in the sustained processes required to make a long-term difference.

  2. When I was teaching, the one thing I LONGED for was a run of more than one year when I didn’t have to, for some spurious reason I had no faith in, rewrite the SoW to incorporate some new piece of trendyism. All I wanted was to refine and consolidate my existing ones. To let it settle. Because this saves the teacher an enormous amount of time and energy, it was regarded as laziness, refusing to leave my comfort zone, dinosaurism, resistance to change….. ffs, the kids only see it once!

  3. I agree with the bit about shiny new ideas but I still think there is merit in seeing new ideas in action in context by other practitioners.

    Its when we get 100s of ‘new’ ideas thrown at us we get the distractions alluded to.

  4. After BETT I saw this blog post: “Is there too much innovation in education” http://www.tonybates.ca/2012/01/14/is-there-too-much-innovation-in-education/ which was a response to this Canadian video distinguishing innovation v improvement http://tvoparents.tvo.org/video/168032/ben-levin-innovate-or-improve-our-school-system

    Improvement – building on successful models; in tech, this is developing the technology more, perhaps integrating tech better – something I think needs a lot of work. In education examples would include test score improvement. In education, we know a lot about good practice – for example, the provision of ‘formative assessment’, rather than just a grade. However, it is often not being put into practice.
    Innovation – in contrast is based around trying new things, but on the understanding that many of them may – when evaluated – be shown not to be particularly useful, but that this constant process of thinking about innovation is important.

    Interesting idea which I think is related to what Dylan’s saying here. (I wrote a blog about it at the time http://www.nominettrust.org.uk/knowledge-centre/blogs/nurturing-and-measuring-%E2%80%98value%E2%80%99-innovation-%E2%80%93-bett-and-beyond )

  5. Dylan William makes some very good points here and speaks a lot of sense. Unfortunately, our current system is run by beaurocrats and OFSTED who are more interested in reducing the efficacy of a profession to a tick box and a single word. Until we start treating teachers as autonomous professionals who are capable and intelligent enough to make decisions for themselves, then our system will remain the same.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments in this video, there’s not enough time given for teachers to find ways to help them improve and develop on their teaching. My big thing is part time study, I love learning and I love my subject, so I’m taking the time to do a mixture of broadening my knowledge and taking some parts to a greater depth. Not only does this give me more subject knowledge to draw on but it also helps me keep in touch with the fact that it’s not always easy to learn new things so that when the kids I teach are telling me they’re struggling I don’t fall into the trap of dismissing their struggles.

  7. Surely we need to share good practice as a way of brining new ideas into our own practice, but then we situate it within that practice, it evolves, we share it with others and so a cycle perpetuates?

  8. Really interesting stuff there. Although I was sceptical about the figures he was giving as facts, I totally agree with his central points. Each teacher knows their own strengths and can only teach in a way that works for them. Also this idea about ‘failing better tomorrow’. And being given time and space to improve what you do.

  9. Frankly, if you’ve had an excellent original idea, why should you be forced to ‘share’ it with your colleagues (or, in other words, give it up for free and see them make a mess of it)? What happened to copyright?

  10. […] Teachers are like magpies. They love picking up shiny little ideas from one classroom; taking it back to their classroom;  trying it once, and then moving on to the next shiny idea.”  (Dylan Wiliam, via Old Andrew) […]

  11. […] I started a blog called magpie and try, documenting all the shiny, fun strategies I had gleened from others and tried in my classroom, aiming to share the love and pay it forwards. Soon after I stumbled across a blog by @HFletcherWood (http://improvingteaching.co.uk/2013/08/17/trying-to-put-the-continuing-into-cpd/ ) with the following quote: “Teachers are like magpies. They love picking up shiny little ideas from one classroom; taking it back to their classroom;  trying it once, and then moving on to the next shiny idea.”  (Dylan Wiliam, via Old Andrew)” […]

  12. […] Teachers are like magpies. They love picking up shiny little ideas from one classroom; taking it back to their classroom;  trying it once, and then moving on to the next shiny idea.”  (Dylan Wiliam, via Old Andrew) […]

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