Lessons from Practice Perfect

Following on from Lessons from Fierce Conversations, here are some lessons from the book Practice Perfect by Lemov, Woolway and Yezzi. In the book, they set out forty two principles for effective talent development through practice. The book crosses a number of areas of talent (sports, music and medicine for example) but focuses in particular on how to develop effective teachers.

The summary notes below, which I made whilst reading the book about five years ago, outline the forty two principles. The concepts are based around a model of whole staff practice in training sessions, practice during coaching sessions and practice during actual lessons.

Looking back, I now realise that this book was pivotal in terms of influencing how I’ve attempted to develop the CPD process for teachers at our school, just as Teach Like a Champion was vital in informing our teaching model. It’s been exceptionally helpful in returning to this list as it’s reminded me of some of the principles we’ve yet to crack. It should also help in the work we’re doing currently in terms of supporting the development of our leaders.

Rethinking Practice

1 Encode success

Establish what success looks like, breaking it down into small parts. Watch for it, checking constantly and addressing where it isn’t happening (responding to failure). Don’t double the difficulty of success before the person/organisation you are coaching is ready, but focus on the fastest possible correct version and the most complex right version possible.

2 Practice the Twenty

Focus eighty percent of your attention on the twenty percent of skills which will have the most impact. This is essentially the Pareto Principle. Keep practicing and drilling these at a mastery level, even when you’ve mastered them.

3 Let the mind follow the body

Look to make processes automatic through repeated practice and reflection.

4 Unlock creativity…with repetition.

Drill to develop automaticity and free up your brain for more creative tasks.

5 Replace your purpose with an objective.

We should set ourselves objectives which are SMART, just like we do for our students. These should integrate already mastered objectives so that mastery doesn’t fade or become rusty.

6 Practice Bright Spots

Keep practicing things you’re already good at and make them even better.

7 Differentiate drill from scrimmage

Focus on practicing small parts/skills both in isolation and in a version close to the real thing. This is similar to rehearsing lines to memorise them and dress rehearsal in a play. Neither are the real performance, but they bring you closer to it.

8 Correct instead of critique

Don’t just give guidance (critique). Instead, ensure participants redo the work or task, but with improvements as swiftly as possible (correct the issues) following advice which is as private as possible.

9 Analyse the game

Use data to pick top performers or elements of performance. Analyse what skills top performers have in common. Use this to provide a clear map for others to perform at the same level.

10 Isolate the skill

Break skills down into small parts and practice each part in isolation before practicing the skill. Sometimes a strength in one skill area can hide or mask the need for practice in another.

11 Name it

Name each skill and ensure people stick to these names to ensure precise feedback is given, rather than accepting terminology can be changed.

12 Integrate the skills

Create practice opportunities which are as close as possible to “real” situations, including environments and human reactions. Ensure people you are coaching learn to match the right skills to the right situations.

13 Make a plan

Plan with the performance of your classes in mind. What will make the biggest difference to your classes’ performance. Plan down to the last minute for your area of development. Rehearse and revise the plan. Record yourself and reflect on your sessions.

14. Make each minute matter

In whole staff or group training sessions, cut back on wasted time by using do now tasks. Use opportunities through the day to cut back on wasted time by using it to drill strategies. Turn ways you save time into routines.

Using Modelling

15 Model and describe

Use modeling to help learners (including teachers who are learning) replicate, but use description to help then understand. Use both to ensure they can more flexibly apply.

16 Call your shots

When you send people to observe or shadow someone else, make what you want them to observe explicit.

17 Make models believable

Model in a context that is similar as possible to the one in which the people you are coaching must perform. Modelling in person is often more believable than modelling by video.

18 Try “supermodeling”

Model the way you want learners to perform explicitly with the skill you are looking for learners to develop, but also with other skills.

19 Insist they “Walk this way”

When asking people to follow a model, a useful first step is for them to imitate the model exactly.

20 Model “skinny parts”

With complex skills, model one step at a time. Play games of copycat with initial learners.

21 Model the path

Don’t just provide a model of the product. Talk through the process you went through in learning the skill.

22 Get ready for your close up

Use film as an easy way to capture models.


23 Practice giving feedback

Build a culture where people give feedback a lot. Cause people to put the feedback into practice quickly. Observe feedback being put into practice to see whether your advice works.

24 Apply first, then reflect

Spending too long on reflection during whole staff training can become a barrier to further practice. This:

1. Practice

2. Feedback

3. Practice again

4. Possibly practice this multiple times

5. Reflect

Is better than this:

1. Practice

2. Feedback

3. Reflect and discuss

4. Possibly practice again

25 Shorten the feedback loop.

Give feedback right away. A simple, small change implemented right away can be more effective than a complex rewiring of a skill. Often the simple change will have a domino effect on much broader skills.

26 Use the power of positive

Use praise:

• To identify specific successes and help people see what they have done right more clearly.

• To make a statement of replication to tell the person to drill the same thing again, possibly with a slight amendment to improve it or just to build it into muscle memory.

• To make a statement of application to indicate where else they might use the skill they are now experiencing success in.

27 Limit yourself.

Limit the amount of feedback you give, individually and as an organisation. If more than one person is coaching someone, make sure there is a system in place to track feedback, so people aren’t being overloaded.

28 Make it an everyday thing

The more you make a habit of feedback, the more normal it becomes. Use sentence starters when you begin to help everyone give both positive and constructive feedback. Experts begin by copying pastmasters.

29 Describe the solution, not the problem

Try to move from “Don’t…” Or “You shouldn’t…” To telling the person what to do. Make sure actions are specific and actionable. Look for ways to abbreviate commonly given guidance in your organisation. For example.

30 Lock it in

Summarize the feedback. Prioritize the actions. Ask recipients to restate the feedback to check for understanding.


31 Normalise Error

Push people beyond any current plateaus by pushing them beyond their current performance in practice sessions.

Don’t ignore errors in practice sessions. They’ll become ingrained.

Help performers identify their own errors.

Practice your techniques for responding to errors.

32 Break down your barriers to practice.

Anticipate that some people will feel awkward practicing.

Identify and name the barriers.

Overcome these barriers by diving in.

Use these phrases to help:

33 Make it fun to practice

Make use of friendly competition at training.

Don’t allow fun to detract from or take over from the objective of the training.

Encourage encouragement.

Incorporate elements of surprise in your training by, for example, putting a post it note under the chair of the next person to practice.

34 Everybody does it.

Be willing to model yourself as leader of a workshop.

Ask for advice/feedback on your modeling.

Use language that is inviting and assumed everyone will practice.

35 Leverage peer to peer accountability.

Allow your team to self-identify particular skills and areas of growth they want to focus on, based on feedback.

Encourage teachers to see themselves as Academy teachers, rather than classroom teachers. “Together, we are the teachers of all the students at the Academy.”

36 Hire for practice

Before employing someone, carefully consider the practice tasks in the interview process. Use the opportunity to gauge their openness to feedback. Get them to repeat part of the task.

37 Praise the work which exceeds expectations.

Normalise praise which supports good practice. Praise actions, not traits. Differentiate acknowledgement from praise. Acknowledge when someone meets your expectations with a thank you. Praise when Simeon goes above and beyond expectations with praise.

Post practice

38 Look for the right things

After practicing, observe for the practiced skills in the final performance. Allow leaders to practice observing for discrete skills which have been practiced.

39 Coach during the game (don’t teach)

Don’t try to teach new material during a performance. Coaching during a game should only cue and remind people to use what they have already learnt.

40 Keep talking

Name all the discrete skills and drills you practice. Use the names when discussing the skills to keep them alive in your organisation.

41 Walk the line (between support and demand)

Frame feedback, not as helpful advice, but as something required to improve performance. Move away from “You could…” or “Try…” towards “This week we’re going to…”Next week, when you…” Communicate a sense of urgency when improvement is necessary. Be transparent about your role as evaluator when it is necessary.

42 Measure successes

Use teaching over time information – books, learning walks, assessment/progress data, staff self assessment – as a gauge of the effectiveness of practice sessions and to decide what needs to be practiced next.

One comment

  1. teachingbattleground · February 7, 2018

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


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