Leadership approaches, support and ideas from Bristol Brunel Academy

Being observed? Be successful – keep a ‘blue head’

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Being observed? Be successful – keep a ‘blue head’


Observing my colleagues teach is always something I look forward to, being able to see the professionals that I work with displaying their artistry in the classroom is exciting and inspiring for me. However, on occasions, when we walk into a classroom for an observation it is possible to pick up the high anxiety levels from the member of staff being observed, we’ve all had it, adrenaline causes the hand to shake while writing on the board, the voice to quiver causing our questioning to fly out the window and the cheeks start to flush, all signs that we are entering a ‘red head state’. So often during the feedback session after these observations the member of staff will say “I wish you could just watch me without me knowing” or “That’s not what I normally do, I don’t know why I did that”.


James Kerr’s book ‘Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership’ presents ideas on how the New Zealand All Blacks have become the most successful international team of all time in any sport (75% win rcord in the past 100 years). In particular it talks about ‘Pressure’ quoting Gilbert Enoka (All Blacks Mental skills coach) as saying “pressure is [a result of] expectation, scrutiny and consequence”, the combination of these elements causing attention to be diverted away from what is really important. Mathew Syed goes a step further by describing how he found himself competing in the Sydney Olympics for table tennis when he found he could barely hit the ball “Instead of just doing it using the subconscious part of the brain, which is a very efficient deliverer of complex task [people who choke] exert conscious control and it disrupts the smooth working of the subconscious”.

Nick Bollettieri coins this interruption of the subconscious as the ‘Centipede effect’, if a centipede had to think about moving each leg individually it would get lost, similarly if a teacher had to think about all of the facets of the lesson simultaneously they too would be lost. At Bristol Brunel we talk about teachers developing habits, in the moment when they are feeling pressure, those colleagues who have developed and honed their teaching habits most effectively are able to revert back to these and still produce good progress in lessons. For example, a teacher who has been working consistently on developing high quality questioning will revert easily in a pressure situation to this skill and still move learning forwards.

Kerr’s book goes on to develop further methods for finding the ‘blue state of mind’, one of these being mantra’s or memory aids. The idea of the mantra is to refocus the mind on the big picture of what is trying to be achieved in the moment, an example in the book given from paramedics arriving to an emergency scene – “Assess, adjust, act” bringing clarity to their thought process. For those colleagues who find themselves overawed by the situation of being observed finding further methods to seek out this blue state of mind could be truly effective, much of this can be achieved through positive self-talk and taking control of your internal thought processes. All Black legend Richie McCaw talks about “breathing slowly and shifting your attention to something external…to get yourself back in the present and regain your situational awareness”. Richie McCaw goes on to describe the process for bringing yourself to this blue state of mind then linking it to a physical action, this is then repeated until the blue state of mind and the physical action are linked and automatic. Richie himself stamps his feet (the physical act of ‘grounding himself’) when he begins to feel pressure and an encroaching ‘red head’ moment.

This is not a suggestion that when teachers are feeling pressured they begin stamping their feet and doing a Haka but it does steer colleagues towards methods where they can recognise pressure, take control of the situation and their response thus returning to a state where normal service resumes. In order for us to support colleagues in improving we have to see the real teaching experience for their classes and this, of course, requires the member of staff to be in their normal ‘blue state’ exuding the confidence they do when no other adults are in the room.

Keep a blue head…



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