25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #1 Don’t do as you’re told

Would anyone want to make themselves unpopular? I doubt it. But there are times when one has to choose between what is going to give them a quiet life, and what they feel is right. Obviously, though, you have to choose your battles. In this series I thought I’d explore the sorts of thing which some educational technology leaders or school leaders might not like.

Strictly speaking, if a teacher declines to carry out an instruction, he can be reprimanded – even if the instruction is dreadful. In my first day at one school I had the following conversation with my Head of Department:

HoD: Regarding the Year 10s (15 years old), just spend the first couple of lessons giving them a list of terms and their definitions to write down.

Me: But the terms will be meaningless unless we explore the concepts behind them.

HoD: Don’t worry about all that; just write the list on the board and get them to copy it down.

Me: But what’s the purpose of doing that? They won’t learn anything.

HoD: No, but it’ll keep them quiet.


Sorry, but that’s pretty appalling if you want my honest opinion – on at least four levels.

Firstly, I think a lesson should be more than about keeping kids quiet.

Secondly, I’m not sure I want kids to be quiet: I want them to discuss and challenge, not sit there like sponges.

Thirdly, if by “keeping them quiet” the HoD meant ensure there were no behavioural issues, then the best way of achieving that is to make the lesson interesting, not to try to bore the kids into submission.

Fourthly, I believe in providing people with learning hooks – something they can hold on to, mentally, when learning new terminology. How can people learn things in a deep way if all they’ve done is learn a list of words by heart? But if they understand the concepts which underpin those words, they won’t even have to make a conscious effort to learn them.


Disobeying the HoD wasn’t a strategy that was guaranteed to gain me kudos or promotion within the school. But I was able to look at myself in the mirror each morning!

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