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Ep 9. The tweet that roared with Tom Bennett

This transcript was created with speech-to-text software.  It was reviewed before posting, but may contain errors. Credit to Jazmin Boisclair.

You can listen to the episode here: Chalk & Talk Podcast.


Ep 9. The tweet that roared with Tom Bennett

[00:00:00] Anna Stokke: Welcome to Chalk and Talk, a podcast about education and math. I'm Anna Stokke, a math professor and your host.

You are listening to episode nine of Chalk and Talk. In this episode, I had the pleasure of talking to Tom Bennett, who is a teacher, an author and founder of the grass-roots nonprofit organization researchED. He was recently appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to education.

Tom has a captivating sense of humour, making this a great listen. While talking to him, I was deeply moved by his intense commitment to improving education for children. We discuss many things in this episode, such as education research group work, cell phones in schools, and encouraging evidence-informed [00:01:00] teaching.

But we begin with the story of researchED, which has started an evidence revolution in education. And it all started with one tweet, as Tom Bennett calls it, “the tweet that roared.” I really hope you enjoy this episode. Now without further ado, let's get started. 

I'm excited to have Tom Bennett joining me today from Edinburgh. He is a teacher and taught in the East End of London for 13 years. He is the director and founder of researchED that is an international nonprofit, teacher-led project that runs conferences on research and education. So far, researchED has delivered conferences in 13 countries.

He is a school teacher fellow of Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge, and he trains teachers and schools internationally in behaviour and research. He is the author of six books on teacher training, behaviour [00:02:00] management and education research. His most recent I just read is called Running the Room: The Teacher's Guide to Behavior, which is an invaluable resource for teachers and especially new teachers. 

In 2015, he was appointed the UK government's advisor on school behaviour, also known as a behaviour tsar and leads the behaviour hubs project with the aim to improve behaviour skills in disadvantaged schools in the UK.

Also, in 2015, he was long-listed as one of the world's top teachers in the GEMS Global Teacher Prize and was listed on Huffington Post’s ‘Top 10 Bloggers’ list. Very recently, in 2022, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to education, which is a well-deserved honour. It is my great pleasure to have Tom with me today.

Welcome, Tom. Welcome to my podcast!

[00:02:55] Tom Bennett: Bless the King, and I'm, I, don't deserve an introduction like that. Thank you so much. [00:03:00] That was very kind.

[00:03:00] Anna Stokke: Oh, yes, you do. So I thought we would start out by talking about your experience as a teacher and, and how you came to start researchED. Correct me if I'm wrong at any point, you grew up in Glasgow, and at some point, you moved to London, and you ran nightclubs in Central London for a few years.

So you were, you were tough enough to decide you should become a teacher, a natural transition from nightclubs. I recently read your book, as I mentioned, and I understand that you encountered some difficulties as a new teacher, that sometimes you felt unprepared and frustrated at times.

Would you mind elaborating on that? What sorts of difficulties did you face? 

[00:03:42] Tom Bennett: I, I, think it was something which is really common for new teachers, which is when you're consciously unskilled, it's something you've never been shown how to do. You know, it took me years to realize as a new teacher that the reason even was such a thing as behaviour management. Because in my teacher induction, my [00:04:00] teacher preparation, there was this really strong idea that you'll learn it on the job as you go along.

You know, we won't teach you it now, but it's something you'll, you'll develop. But when you asked them how to do it, they said, “Oh, we can't tell you.” You know, “that's something you have to learn through your own devices,” which, which was very Buddhist, you know? In fact, it was more like the force, you know, you had to kinda discover it for yourself, but not very useful. And people would say to you mad things like, “It's all about relationships.”

You know, “Trust your feelings, Luke. It's all about relationships.” And you would go, and “That sounds great, but how do I build these relationships all-wise one,” and they would say, “Oh, we can't tell you. You just have to build them.” Which is the worst advice ever. You know, if you don't scaffold the learning of a novice, don't be surprised if the novice crashes and burns.

And maybe one in a thousand teachers flourishes and blossoms by this method. And there, there's a specific name for this; it's called in at the deep end, right? Which is the worst pedagogical model you can possibly design [00:05:00] unless you wanted people to fail.

So that was my experience of going into a classroom, that I knew my subject, more or less - he says drawing a veil. But the idea of how to direct the behaviour of children in order for them to flourish and succeed as human beings and as learners and as a group, and for me to be the catalyst of that process, I knew absolutely nothing.

And as you say, I mean, I used to run nightclubs for a living. I mean, I'm not shy, right? I'm used to talking to people, and I'm used to talking people down off of a lot of angry ledges. But I found that all of those skills were completely non-transferable in a classroom context where the levers and the relationship is very, very different.

[00:05:46] Anna Stokke: How did you learn to manage the classroom? 

[00:05:51] Tom Bennett: It's a bit like, you know, I guess how, you know, the ancients discovered fire, which is, you know, you hit absolutely everything against [00:06:00] anything else. And see if sparks resulted, which is a kinda long and laborious process. In other words, I made every single mistake you could possibly make.

And you know, I did what everybody does wrong. I was too nice to them for a while, or I was, I tried to be funny, or I tried to make things really easy. Or sometimes I would rail and, and rage like King Lear against the wind. And sometimes I would, you know, shout at them and tell them how disappointed I was.

And sometimes I would tell them how long I'd spent preparing the lesson and you know, couldn't they see what they were doing to their lives and, you know, the story. And I made the, you know, every single mistake possible. And what you tend to do is you tend to, you tend to find a way of coping rather than succeeding or, or surviving rather than thriving.

And I think a lot of schools fall into this. That they, that they encounter a group which is challenging, they don't really have any tools or strategies in their magazine with which [00:07:00] to deploy in a difficult or challenging class. So they just do what the, they just do what comes naturally, which tends to be very reactive forms of behaviour management. You know, reprimanding kids, telling them off, setting sanctions and suspending and, and so on.

And I'm not against them, I think they're really important. But I think if that's all that you do to try to, to, to manage behaviour, then you tend to run into disaster more or less. So what I did was I used to, and I, this isn't transferrable, right? I used to, I love telling stories. Maybe that comes across, and I, and I used to try to tell stories to kids about my adventures in nightclubs.

You know, obviously, kind of PG versions. And, and then I would say, “Alright, and that's, that's, interesting. Let's have a discussion about the, I don’t know, the philosophy behind what just happened there.” And then I would try and pull it into the, pull it into the lesson. It was like a spoonful of sugar.

I was tricking them, in other words. But, you know, that wasn't a great [00:08:00] strategy. And just because it worked for me a little bit doesn't mean it was a good thing to do because it meant that I spent half a lesson telling stories when, you know, we could have been thinking really, really hard about the stuff I really wanted them to learn and remember and understand. 

[00:08:13] Anna Stokke: So at some point you, you wrote this book called Teacher Proof: Why research in education doesn't always mean what it claims and what you can do about it. So what led you to that? Why did you write that book? 

[00:08:28] Tom Bennett: Yeah, that was, that was kind of interesting. I mean, I've always been interested in science and epistemology and the theory of what we know and can know. That was part of my philosophy background, which was made me unemployable in every other context, but I found it very enjoyable. 

All the big bucks are, right? Philosophy! You know, that's what I tell my kids. “Go do philosophy.” And then I was a teacher, and I started to write a lot. I love, I've always enjoyed writing. And you know, you obviously write about what interests you. So I wrote about teaching and then it, [00:09:00] it startled me when I was in the education profession, how easy it was for people to say something was true without any kind of concomitant evidence or research or even like a, like a logical argument underneath it.

People could say anything. This, if you remember, I'm sorry, you're probably too young, but this is the era of learning styles and brain gym and, you know, all of the worst excesses of our, you know, infantile ancestry. And I remember just looking at our stuff, thinking, “This doesn't seem particularly credible.”

And you would see things on the news every single day. Maybe it would be, you know, “trips for teachers program to revolutionize school discipline,” or it be something like, “place a strong smelling, you know, like a joss stick or something in a classroom to activate a student's memory.” All these claims were being made all the time about memory and learning and so on.

And I just remember thinking, “I'm an idiot, right? I know very little about psychology, and yet [00:10:00] even I can tell this is probably rubbish.” And so I started to write about it. I started to blog about, “Oh, where are the evidence bases behind these claims?” And whenever somebody wrote about something in the press, I would blog about, well, “Where did they get these ideas from?”

And then I would start to see if it was from one small case study of five people or, you know, like a very privileged cohort of six kids in a private school or something like that. And often they were. And so I would write about it in my kind of clumsy way, and eventually, I thought, well, “This could be put together into a book.”

And so I wrote Teacher Proof, and I'm, I'm proud of it because, at the time, there were no teachers writing about this stuff. There was no classroom response to the BS that was being poured down on us from high. And since then, there have been scores of better books than Teacher Proof. And, you know, I don't even recommend people to read it anymore.

I'm not ashamed of it, but it, it, I look at it now and think, “Oh, it seems so embryonic.” But I'm proud of what it was when it happened. But you [00:11:00] read books by people like, you know, Alex Quigley or you know, [Robert] Marzano or anybody. There's, there's just thousands of great books, you know, [Daniel] Willingham and, and Carl Hendrick and so on.

And I would recommend that educators read. But at the time, for me, it felt quite groundbreaking. And it kind of led to lots of other things for me research-wise.

[00:11:16] Anna Stokke: It's great that you did that, and I encountered something similar as a parent, by the way. When my kids were young, they were teaching them all sorts of, what I thought were very strange methods to do simple mathematics, right? 

So instead of teaching, you know, the addition algorithm where you line up the digits by place value and carry, they would have them write these out using blocks and collect things up and blah, blah, blah.

I was really surprised by that because I taught actually History of Calculus at one point when I first started teaching. 

[00:11:53] Tom Bennett: What do you know, right?

[00:11:55] Anna Stokke: And yeah, and essentially the whole idea was, we moved past those kinds of clunky methods to [00:12:00] get to better methods, right? And now here we had kids doing these as actual methods of calculation.

And I went to a parent night, and they were telling the parents that this was all backed by research. That teaching children standard algorithms worked against understanding that it wasn't good for children. And they passed out some research study at the, at the end of the session, and I think it was maybe three kids in particular circumstances.

And they'd interpreted the, the results in whatever way they wanted. And so, actually, it's kind of disturbing, you know, that this sort of thing is generally accepted, and curricula and pedagogy literally gets changed in this way.

[00:12:43] Tom Bennett: Yeah. And I call this folk teaching, you know, in the same way, we have folk medicine. And obviously, you know, there, there is a lot of kind of truth and wisdom in many, for example, you know, indigenous medicinal practices and so on. But that tends to be because, through a process of [00:13:00] trial and error, they've come across, for example, something which has got efficacy in certain circumstances and so on.

And what that does is that contributes towards our understanding of medicine that doesn't replace it. What it does, what it doesn't mean is that we then substitute, for example, you know, the, the empirical method or, you know,  clinical trials for folk medicine. 

And it's the same with education where up until, I was gonna say quite recently, but I would still say even now, it's possible for anybody to say almost anything as foolish as say astrology is in its own field and somebody in education will stroke their chin and think, “Yeah, yeah, that sounds right, that sounds right.” You know, whether it be, I mean, I mentioned learning styles as being, you know, the classic paradigm example of this, but I still see learning styles being propagated in schools. 

[00:13:48] Anna Stokke: Oh definitely, yeah.

[00:12:43] Tom Bennett: Still even now, like decades after the great, the great war of learning styles, because these things take a long time to, to burn down to the roots of the weeds. And also [00:14:00] because of the appeal. There's an emotional appeal about them.

And so, one of the things I've realized is that it's not enough just to say something and present the evidence, say that's it, “the matter is settled.” You have to constantly make the argument. You have to constantly present the evidence over and over again for every single cohort and generation of practitioners or anybody within an ecosystem.

Otherwise, you are re-exposing people back to the fables and fantasies and the folk teaching of yesteryear. It can come back in a snap, which is why we have to constantly present a bulwark of rationality, of reason and evidence bases. Which isn't to say that I think I'm right about everything, but rather, but those are definitely the right processes that we need to use, and that's how we're going to discern some kind of level of truth in education. 

[00:14:45] Anna Stokke: And what I started doing when I would hear these claims, I would say, “Okay, can you please give me five studies?” Because I first started asking for the studies, and then they would send me like, a hundred articles, right? “Can you gimme [00:15:00] five studies that you think are actually well-designed studies that support your claim?” And you know what? It never happened. 

[00:15:08] Tom Bennett: I go to a lot of schools, right? That's, that's basically my superpower. I can't move very quickly, but I go to a lot of schools, right? I've been to about 800 schools now throughout the world, and that's, that's it.

That's all I do. I look at the behaviour systems, and I look at the evidence bases of what they do, and so on. And one of the things I find, particularly in the independent sector, you know, the private sector schools is they love, they love an open plan classroom. It's like, it's like catnip for them. They absolutely adore it. And when you say to them, “Oh, I noticed you're spending 20 million on this great new open plan classroom with no walls and 16 classes of grade ones. How's that going to work out for you?”

And when you ask them what the evidence is, they'll point to some kind of study, but it'll be some entirely self-reported study with 16 kids, as you say, in another [00:16:00] private school who said, “Yes, we quite liked it for five minutes,” or something like that. And it would just be the most appalling levels of evidence.

It is usually testimonials from architects’ websites. And yet this is the kind of, this is what passes as evidence for decisions that hoover up many, many, millions of dollars. Billions of dollars when you consider the entirety of the, of the sector. 

[00:16:23] Anna Stokke: This brings us to researchED, and you started researchED. And I've read that researchED was started with one tweet. So I'm wondering if you can tell us a bit about that. So what led up to the tweet and what was the tweet, and what happened after the tweet?

[00:16:39] Tom Bennett: It was the tweet that roared, Anna. That's what I like to call it. Oh God, where, where do I go with this? I mean, what led up to it? There was a very inauspicious lead up. I was a full-time teacher, we were just about to have a kid. And so, of course, what was I doing on a Tuesday evening? My wife had gone to bed feeling tired, of [00:17:00] course, and I was watching, oh my God, whatever, G.I. Joe or some terrible film like this, right?

And as I was watching it, there was like, there was a Twitter conversation going on by some people I respect. I'd been writing about research already, I'd written Teacher Proof, and somebody said online, “Why don't we have a conference?”

And I said, “Yeah, I'll do that. That's a great idea. Let me run with that idea.” And so I put a tweet out at about 11 o'clock on a Tuesday night to say, listen, “I think I'm thinking about running a conference.” You know, “Who wants to help?” Thinking that a few people would chip in, and we would put something on.

By three o'clock in the morning, I was still answering emails. And when I went to school the next day, there was like another 400 emails waiting for me. And we had like national newspapers wanting to sponsor it. We had teachers wanting to speak, academics, wanting to speak. We had venues, we had, you know, offers of help to design the logo.

It was just really quite [00:18:00] beautiful, very human moment where everyone just said, “That's a great idea. How can I help?” And I spent the next week or two weeks literally just giving people jobs and saying, you know, “You design the logo,” “You come up with a name,” you know, “You find a school that we can do this in,” and so on and so forth. And “You design the website.” Everyone did it for free. It was the most inspirational moment in my life, genuinely.

And it gave me so much energy to, to know that I was part of that, you know, that wave as it were. So we put it on, we had I think 400 people in the first event. Everybody volunteered, to you know, registration desks, people printed t-shirts, all the rest of it. And it, it was such a great event. It was such a great success. I remember thinking, “Wow, this was a success despite anything I did.” You know, it refused to not happen in a sense. And after it, I remember thinking, “Man, that was one of the best days of my life. Let's go home.” And then somebody emailed me to say, right, “When's the next one?”

And I went, “Are you kidding?” That was, that was [00:19:00] it. That, you know, that that was Live Aid, that was, you know, that was Woodstock. That's all we're going to have. And then from then on, I realized, no, this has got legs. People really, really want this. There was a huge appetite there just beneath the surface.

All this pressure building up and building up with people who are hungry and perhaps tired of being forced to endure every single unevidenced, undemonstrated, irrational, you know, woozy, lazy concept in education that came along. And people who thought, "actually, here is a way out of this.”

“Here's a way that we can be heard as educators,” you know, as, as, as classroom-based educators, but principals, administrators, whoever. And not just to have a voice and a professional voice, but to have a voice which is evidence-informed rather than just an opinionated one, which I think is what we were relying on, this kind of folk teaching. This, “I hope it works,” working by gut, working by hunch, working by intuition. And that [00:20:00] enthusiasm was palpable.

And not only did it blow up in my face incredibly quickly in the UK, but within about two or three months, people in other countries were saying, you know, “Can we put one on? Can we put one on?” And I have to say that it's been like that for the last 10 years. And again, as, as I said before, despite my best efforts, it is still a runaway success because I think we are internationally at that stage now where there's a community of practitioners who are tired of the status quo, who want things to be better, and know that evidence is the way in which we can point our way through these difficult times. 

[00:20:37] Anna Stokke: That's amazing. So the difference between a usual professional development conference and a researchED conference would be that the researchED conference is run by teachers. Is that correct? 

[00:20:52] Tom Bennett: Yeah, I mean, kind of. I mean, there's a lot - the thing is, what I've been delighted to see in the last 10 years is that into this space there have been [00:21:00] lots of other teacher-led events creeping into this space, which is fantastic because I remember thinking, “we don't have to wait for people to put this stuff on.”

We don't have to wait for a professional organization or for, you know, the teacher training providers or the state or the local district. We don't have to wait for these people to put this stuff on. If we all agree that this is a non-profit activity and no one's going to get paid, and that we're all doing it for the love of what we're doing, we can put these events on for next to nothing.

They're really, really cheap to do as long as nobody's paying the venue $20,000. As long as there's no big name speakers getting $10,000 to speak. If you cut that out, all of a sudden, boom, you've got an event for like $3,000, which you can cover from ticket sales and little bit of sponsorship to cover the food.

You know, that's when these things start to become possible. So that's one big, big important thing. Second thing is it's on a Saturday. Now that surprises people because it, given that most educators don't work [00:22:00] on the weekend, well, I'm not saying they don't work on the weekend. Maybe they do, but they don't work in an allocated, directed time way on the weekend.

So it gives them a chance to attend professional development, which is self-propelled, you know, where they're autonomous in this decision rather than waiting for permission from somebody else. Next thing is we keep the ticket prices low, which means that people can afford to come. So, I mean, the most the ticket prices usually are, are like $30, $40, which for a full day of some of the best speakers you'll ever listen to and meeting and networking people and usually a lunch thrown in, you know, I don't think it's a bad deal at all.

So there's lots and lots of kind of access and inclusivity angles on it. But I think, for me, the biggest aspect of inclusivity is we assemble our Avengers, composed of people who've got anything interesting to say about evidence in the classroom, evidence in schools. 

So that could be a teacher, it could be a minister or a secretary of state, and we've had them before. It could be a teaching support assistant or a learning [00:23:00] support or somebody involved in some kind of auxiliary role. We've had lots of people doing that. Could be an administrator, someone involved in budgets, could be someone who runs an MRI machine.

As long as you've got something interesting to say about evidence and research and education, and as long as you're prepared to have your views scrutinized and contested, then we've got this wonderful egalitarian community of speakers where, you know, the great and the good sit next to the demos.

And I love that aspect about it because normally you have academic conferences, which I find, where academic speaks unto academic. And that's, again, that's, that's an entirely reasonable thing to do. So it's a great community to be in. There are also teacher conferences where teachers speak unto a teacher.

These can often become quite, you know, “Here's something I like doing,” and then everyone claps and kinda goes home again. Ours is somewhere in between. You know, ours is, “Here's what I did, and I think this was the impact, and here's why I think it,” or, “Here's something I read which could be useful. Here's how I would [00:24:00] interpret it into my classroom.”

And it's that kinda interpretation aspect which is unique to what we do. Or fairly unique. What would this look like in a classroom? So we're looking for academics that can speak classroom, and we're looking for classroom practitioners that can speak academia. And the bilingual ones are the best ones because they can usually give us a perspective on both angles.

That's kind of some of what, what we do that I think sets us out. If I may just say, Anna, sorry to go on a bit, I was amazed nobody had done this before. I remember Paul McCartney, he was, he was writing Yesterday.

I, I don't remember it. I wasn't there. And he said that he was hammering it, and he was writing it and he was thinking, “No, somebody else has written this.” You know, this is too familiar. But nobody had, now I'm not trying to compare researchED to Yesterday. There's, there's different levels of, you know, of success here.

I remember just thinking, “Oh, this is obvious that you would have people in a situation like this speaking to one another and interrogating one another.” But it wasn't so obvious. And in fact, I had one very esteemed professional [00:25:00] organization of academics in the UK, and I said to them, “Do you wanna come and speak?”

And they said, literally, “Why do we want to speak to teachers?” They're not our audience. And I said, well, that's interesting, given that you spend your entire life devoted to academia and the research of education. So, you know, so what is your goal? And I think that there's a lot of academics who are rightly interested very much in, in the pursuit of knowledge or wisdom for its own sake.

I think that's brilliant. Of course it is. You know, it doesn't always have to have utility, but I think at some point if your, if your business is education, that it is very useful that, at least sometimes, your research is exposed to the often brittle atmosphere of reality.

[00:25:44] Anna Stokke: Absolutely. And you've had some really big-name speakers too, like some people I've actually had on the podcast. You had Paul Kirschner, you've had him quite a few times, right? And, and Greg Ashman and Barbara Oakley.

[00:25:59] Tom Bennett: Oh wow. [00:26:00] Love all them! Can I just say that one of the things that has blown my mind for years is the largesse, the altruism, the compassion of so many people in education. There are great people like Professor Kirschner and you know, and Barb, and just people who are so giving and they see it as their mission to, to help people understand things.

What joy, how human, how humane. And there are lots of people who, I'll say this cautiously, there are lots of people who don't share that. And again, it's not up to me to judge, but people like Dan Willingham, for example, has spoken several times for us and given up loads of his time to be interviewed and, and, you know, time and time again. 

And these people don't have to do it. These people have got kudos and glory and honours and letters of glory after their names, you know, up the yin yang. They don't need to do this, but they want to do it because they think it matters. And that's a joy to me.

[00:26:57] Anna Stokke: And I mean, you're definitely a [00:27:00] trailblazer, and it sounds absolutely wonderful. It's great for teachers. The idea is almost even “take back the profession,” but I would imagine that this would bother some people based on the experiences I've had myself when I started sort of speaking up about some of the things that were being done in schools. And so, I'm curious if you've faced any pushback. 

[00:27:23] Tom Bennett: No, to be honest, Anna, it's been only popular. Everyone's loved it, and there's been no dispute whatsoever. Everyone has just kind of rolled over and said, “Yeah, you know what, guys? You're all right. You're absolutely right.” The truth has been somewhere in between these two extremes. There's been a lot of pushback, but that's kind of okay because when you're trying to change something, there'll be a lot of people who don't want things to be changed.

And if you don't stand for anything, then you stand for nothing. And social media is a great way to find this out. If you ever want to, to lose your illusions about the innate [00:28:00] goodness of humanity, spend five minutes on the asylum that is social media. You know, where you can basically stand up and say something as innocent as “I like cheese.”

And somebody will say, well, “Your silence on jam is telling. Why do you hate jam?” and you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m okay with jam.” and they’ll be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Too late. Cancelled.” And it’s an interesting place to be. But I'm really, I'm really interested in how you change cultures in general. Cause that's something that my behaviour work takes me into. And changing the culture of education has been a fascinating example of this.

When, I mean, I remember I used to, I used to quite innocently and casually say, “Boy, these learning styles seem pretty rubbish, eh?” you know, something really quite, you know, innocuous like that. And you would get people replying back with absolute venom to say, “Why?” You know, “Do you think kids are all the same?”

“Why do you want children to learn in a straitjacket? You monster. Why do you hate children?” And you're like, [00:29:00] “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” And you were trying to have a rational conversation, and they wouldn't want to engage. And it's normally because people often adopt their belief systems as articles of their own identity. And it's about like having a team affiliation, like, you know, like a tribe or a team or a football team or something like that. You know, it's you, it's who you are. And if someone insults your team, then you take personal offence. There were people who'd been spending their entire careers doing things like learning styles and multiple intelligences and so on.

And then you say, “Actually, it's a waste of time, and it doesn't have any impact. And in some instances, it could actually do some harm.” Or you get people using like mixed reading methods or something like that, or multi-guessing as I like to call it. And, you know, they've spent their lives do using these, these processes.

And if you say it to them, “Actually, that's probably been quite detrimental to a few kids learning,” you know, “let's make things better.” A lot of people cling to that, and they're not gonna leave that rock. And some people can say, “Oh, actually, no, I get it. I [00:30:00] get it. I want to be better. I want to do better.”


God bless these people. But there are some people, normally people who've got their careers invested in it. Who will just simply object to this. I mean, one of my early, I guess kind of personal crusades or campaigns was against low-quality initial teacher induction or teacher training, teacher prep, because it makes a huge difference to the quality of their life, but also the lives of thousands of children thereafter.

And you would, and what I found was that there were some teacher trainers who are very open to having their, you know, sacred cows overturned - that’s a terrible metaphor, but you get the idea. But you would get a lot of people who'd really, really cling to their position, to their tenure, to their status. I'd often find it in academia. What is it? Somebody once said that “things get so vicious because the stakes are so low.” You know, it's, it's, it's, there's not a lot of money in academia.


All that there is is glory. It's, it's [00:31:00] status, and you see a lot of usually guys, if I'm honest, being really belligerent about anybody, any kind of upstart like myself that comes along and suggests that maybe they've been doing things wrong for quite some time.

So there has been a lot of pushback, but I'm at peace with this war because I tend to stay away from as much of the crazy as I possibly can, and a lot of it is just the crazy. And I engage with loads of people who want to discuss this, and I often invite them to the research and say, come, you know, present your findings. 

But there's something which is at stake here, which is the well-being, the safety, the education, the opportunity and the future of children. There, there is nothing more special than that. There's nothing more important than that. That's what, that's what we're here to do. You know, fatherhood made me realize that even more than I did before, and I'm not going to let anyone stand in the way of that.

So if anyone wants to stand in the way of processes that will make things better for children, well, they can whistle and, and they can take a ticket. Take a seat, as far as I'm concerned. 

[00:31:58] Anna Stokke: That was really well said,[00:32:00] and I completely agree. It is troubling. When I look at math instruction, to be honest, it's not that complicated. You need to give good instruction, get kids to practice a lot, give good feedback and make sure that you're teaching the right topics.

But somehow, we find that, you know, there's all these leading educators that are actually promoting methods that go against those things that actually work, right? 

[00:32:27] Tom Bennett: Yeah, I know.

[00:32:28] Anna Stokke: And this just keeps happening. A lot of research evidence has been around for a long time on how best to teach, right? Like the human brain hasn't changed, and that's where, where learning happens. So it's actually kind of shocking that this keeps continuing. 

[00:32:42] Tom Bennett: Oh, massively. I mean, we know quite a lot about how we learn now. You know, we know quite a lot about memory, we know quite a lot about cognition, we know a lot about cognitive load. You know, we know quite a lot about motivation and focus.

You know, these are really, really quite thoroughly researched areas of [00:33:00] psychology, which is at the very least, the most robust of the humanities or the social sciences rather. And while we lack the certainties, for example, of mathematics where, you know, which, which exist in a, in a beautiful web of tautology. 

I think certainty is overrated when it comes to the human sphere. What we're looking for are best bets, highly likelys, and most probables. Nobody is saying, for example, that we know beyond any doubt whatsoever that you must use, for example, you know, effective novice instruction when somebody's in the beginning of, of a learning process.

But what we do know is that it works with loads of kids, lots of times. And that, therefore, it's a best bet and a highly likely, and a most, and a most probable. And I, and I see a lot of people heavily invested in the opposite. You know, “mathemagics,” mathemagic and stuff like that. I don't know if anything is called mathemagic.

If, if something is, please excuse me for trademark infringement, but I'm sure that it is somewhere. [00:34:00] And you find that often there's a commercial interest. If I could be cynical, then there's a lot of people making a lot of money at selling stuff.

And so they've got invested interest in, in making sure that it appears, that it appears at people's desks. But I was talking to Paul Kirschner about this some years ago, and, you know, he and I had a good chat about this. And why is it that these ineffective, often quite, you know, regressive methods, keep reoccurring in the, in the sphere? And the answer appears to be is that they are, on a very superficial level, very attractive.

They're quite seductive. The idea of personalized education, the idea that children basically want to learn. That you just have to kinda get out the way, the idea that children need to really thoroughly understand the concept of number before, before you apply algorithms to them and so on. And, you know, it kinda makes sense.

The problem is it's just wrong because there's lots of things that are counterintuitive, which are just wrong because the human mind has evolved at a certain level. Neither macroscopic [00:35:00] nor microscopic, but at the human level. So we're very good at understanding intuitively things like basic social dynamics and physics up to about three meters.

You know, that kind of stuff that, we're really good at that. We've evolved to be good at that, but we're not very good at astronomy or subnuclear physics because these worlds are too weird to us. And I think education is a bit like that. The idea of how we learn seems intuitively obvious, but actually when you look at the data for what we do have, I think it confounds some people, which is why we fall back again and again and again into these traps.

I think Kirschner says it's a 20-year cycle, which means that we know we have to keep fighting this fight and, and keep renewing this collective understanding in what we do.

[00:35:43] Anna Stokke: So what can a teacher do though if they're in a situation and, and what I think happens a lot, at least here, the school divisions, they bring in people to promote particular methods. So, for example, a big one might be you [00:36:00] need to teach math through open-ended problems. So instead of giving a student a specific problem to solve, they are supposed to come up with their own problem where the answer's like 15 or something like this.

And it's pretty clear to me that this sort of thing isn't going to get you too far. The kids aren't getting practice on the things that they need to learn. You know, a lot of times, the teachers figure out that this isn't working. A lot of kids are getting left behind. And maybe they know about some of the research evidence that doesn't support this kind of thing.

What can they do? Should they go to their principal and, and say that this isn't backed by solid research evidence or close their door and teach the kids the way they should be taught? What, what would be the best way to handle it? 

[00:36:43] Tom Bennett: We've all been through days like this, and multiple days, and that ecosystem you just described there is one of the main arteries by which this virus reinfects successive cohorts; bad [00:37:00] PD, poorly chosen PD, unregulated PD creates essentially a wild west of professional development (PD) whereby you can see any old junk.

And this is where the snake oil salesman sneaks in, and nobody's scrutinizing them, no one's checking their claims. I've sat in professional development sessions where people have claimed things about Brain Gyms. And about, you know, you can tell when a student's lying because they look up to the left because they're accessing, you know, their sensory cortex and this, you know, crazy stuff. And so normally what I used to do is I would set fire to my papers and walk out, no I wouldn’t do that.


This is a broader question. What we're trying to do with a researchED is try to raise the general level of literacy amongst the profession. Now, what this means is it doesn't mean everyone has to be a researcher.

I'm not a researcher. What it means is, is that we want as many people as possible to at least know when they should be smelling a rat to at least know when [00:38:00] something is or isn't professionally informed. They should be going through an induction or teacher prep program, which is giving them the basic skills to smell these rats, but it doesn't mean they need to become researchers themselves.


The thing I always say to teachers is this, and you've already mentioned it, which is that if someone's presenting a claim in your PD or in your school in general, and they aren't substantiating it in any way, if they're just saying, “this is what we're gonna do,” a professional response is, and this is simple, and it's accessible to anybody, is you put your hand up, you stand up, you email, and you say, “what's the evidence for this claim?”

Right? That's the first, and I think it's a totally reasonable thing to say or do. Now at this point, lots of things can happen. The person you're speaking to might say, Well, actually, I don't have a lot of evidence, but I think it's important that we do it. And that might not be a bad thing. So, for example, you might want to start a breakfast club for kids who don't get breakfast at home.

Now, weirdly [00:39:00] enough, evidence does suggest that well-fed children do learn better, but that's not why you're doing it. You're doing it because you think it's a good thing to do, and that's fine. You know, you can do stuff like that. We're gonna run a, run a, you know, a, a hiking club or something like that.

Okay, fine. I want to do it. That's why we're doing it. I value it. But at least then you understand if it's a value-based proposition. And if it's not, if somebody's making a specific claim, like, “We would like you to mark your homework twice a week.” “Why?” “Well, because we think it's gonna impact the learning.”


“Okay? Why do you, why do you think that? What's your reasoning behind this?” And of course, you find very, very quickly that there aren't any substantial research bases to suggest that marking your students' work, you know, taking, taking the books and doing your marking and giving it back is going to have a massive impact, if any impact whatsoever on the majority of your students. 

And that there are lots and lots of better ways to give, for example, formative feedback in a more continuous and immersive way, rather than the traditional taking the [00:40:00] books and giving the books back, which is, you know, the 13th labour of Hercules.

So that's the kind of process, that kind of questioning is the way by which we start to scrutinize it. And the joy of that is that you can be the newest, the lowest person in the hierarchy. You are absolutely entitled to ask these types of questions. You're not some kid of a union firebrand. This is a normal, professional thing to do.

And if they can't provide the answers, then you discuss things with your peers. I would also suggest what professionals could do is form reading groups in their schools where they take a book and read it and discuss it, critique it, contact the author. You know, get some questions, maybe get some Q&A done online, present your findings back to the school.

Push, push, push, push, push. Because one of the things I've noticed over the years is that after five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years, people in classrooms eventually become heads of faculty or administrators or budgeters. You know, the process works through until these people get into positions of status and [00:41:00] authority.

And that's when really interesting change can start to happen, but we don't wait for somebody to tell us it's okay to do it. We start ourselves now. We form collaborative communities like researchED, but like a million other communities are out there. And we formed arms across the ocean and across the states and the provinces.

So we create these communities whereby we can, I guess, comfort one another but also challenge and introspect and interrogate with one another so that we're forming a community of professionals. And I think we are finally reaching a stage where teachers can call themselves almost, almost not yet, but true professionals. They're not there yet because there is no agreed body of professional wisdom.

You know, it's, it's a lot of, it's just, you know, flimflamming opinion, but we're getting there. So that's what I think people should do, and by all means, push back, question and challenge.

[00:41:51] Anna Stokke: So let's shift gears a bit. I have a behaviour tsar here, and so I think I'd like to ask some, some [00:42:00] questions. I can't pass up this opportunity. Your book, Running the Room, gives really practical, evidence-based advice on managing classroom behaviour and even tips for working with parents.

And one of the main points I took away from the book is that good behaviour must actually be taught, and of course, well-managed classrooms make for better learning environments. So this brings me to the point, and I like to talk about math as, as you probably figured out, and to solve math problems, students need to be able to focus, and they need to be able to concentrate in class.

So I think that along these lines that students also need to be taught how to focus and, and they should be in a classroom environment that allows them to focus. Yet I have noticed that group work is pervasive in math classrooms. And I've also, you know, I've heard a lot of educators make the case that they know the students are learning when they hear lots of [00:43:00] conversations and noise in the classroom, which doesn't actually make a lot of sense to me.

So I'm wondering what you think about this. What are your thoughts on group work?

[00:43:08] Tom Bennett: Oh, where do we start? I am almost reflexively biased against group work. And the reason why is that when I entered the profession in like 2002 or something, and I was told explicitly that the best way to learn was in groups. The children needed to co-construct their knowledge. The children needed to collaboratively co-construct their knowledge.

And this was by far the best way of doing it. And, which is why I walked into classrooms, even at the secondary or the high school level and found that most of the classrooms were in, in pods and groups and so on. Now, I couldn't quite understand this because it seemed to me that as a default, this was absurd because a lot of the time, I needed kids to look at me because I was talking to them, and a lot of the time I'd ask them to look at the board [00:44:00] because there was stuff on there, there to look at. 

And a lot of the time, what I didn't want them to do was to look at one another. So even in the basic instructional phase of a lesson, it was incredibly wasteful because one of the things that human beings are primed to be distracted by is, wait for it, other human beings. 

You know, it, in terms of our schema, we are just absolutely obsessed with one another. We are group animals, and what somebody else is doing is very, very interesting to us. So you're basically putting a distraction right in front of people. So there's that. The next thing is the actual group work itself, whereby it seemed to me that whenever I set a group work task, what happened was something which seemed to happen to most people that did it, which was unequal loading.

So one child would do the majority of the work, three kids would talk about TikTok or in those days, television, if you remember that. And, you know, and one kid would do the bubble writing. I don’t where they get this font from, but it seems to be universal, you know, when they were [00:45:00] doing a poster. And yet all the kids would get praised for it or criticized for it. You know, if it was a good poster, they’d all get a gold star.

And this appeared to me to be undemocratic, completely unjust, and also a really, really bad way of learning stuff. And I realized very early on that group work was one of these shibboleths, one of these dogmas which was still a kind of a hangover from a bygone age of, I guess, 19th-century philosophy that children learn best in groups.

There's, there's no evidence for this whatsoever. There are some tasks which can only be achieved in groups, you know, like a baton relay or an orchestra or something, or, or a debate. Absolutely, that's when we do group work. But one of the things that really struck home for me as a, as a behaviour specialist was that if you're asking kids to do group work, they're not very good at it. Nor should they be because [00:46:00] nobody's born at being really good at working in this kind of collaborative and yet also individualist way.

Most adults I know aren't very good at group work. They're good at working in compartments, not so with one another. And if somebody who is senior to the, to them as a team gives them roles in the kind of classic, I guess, Marxist division of labour, then that's how groups tend to work. When someone's got a different role, but that role contributes to the greater success of a greater goal, fine. 

But we are expecting five-year-olds to do this, 12-year-olds to do this, what spontaneously in a subject they're inexpert in? This is madness. And that's why my default is that children should not be working in groups. If you want to do group work, that's fine, but I am, and I know this, this means that I won't get let into Canada next time by saying this, but I'm an advocate of rows and columns in a classroom, even for younger children.

Because that means the focus is at the [00:47:00] front. The focus is at the person speaking. You still have a shoulder partner if, in fact, you have two if you want to do discussion work.  And if two kids turn around, boom, you have a four. But the, but the trick is that they are, they default back to the rows and columns again. Not because I'm some kind of fascist tyrant who enjoys seeing children weep, but because I want to see them learn, and group work is absurd for most of those activities.

[00:47:29] Anna Stokke: Yeah, you're, I would agree with you on that. 

[00:47:32] Tom Bennett: I don’t know, I'm sitting on the fence here with group work. 

[00:47:35] Anna Stokke: No, no, I got, I got it. And yeah, I'm not a fan of group work myself. I don't like working in groups for some of the reasons you mentioned. I also think that when students are first learning things, and they're in groups, and now you have people teaching each other who, they're not experts, right?

And so all sorts of incorrect myths and things get put out there and, and so it's [00:48:00] just, it just doesn't make good sense. So what you're saying is the, the default should be rows and columns. 

[00:48:06] Tom Bennett: Kids should teach each other. I know this is another one of these, like the stupidest ideas I've ever heard until the next one comes along, which in education is pretty frequent. If, if we want children to be teaching one another, why don't you, why don't we just hire them as teachers?

[00:48:22] Anna Stokke: Yeah. They should get paid for their work, right?

[00:48:25] Tom Bennett: Child labour.

[00:48:26] Anna Stokke: Yeah, exactly.

[00:48:27] Tom Bennett: You ever get, you know, you ever get these, these teachers, and you often see it on things like Facebook. They'll say things like, “I learned more from my children than they do from me.” And I, and I feel like saying, “Well, you should be sad then, if that's the truth because you are no good to the kids.”

We need somebody that knows more about the stuff than the children. Put them in charge of the classroom. You go out there and sell, you know, coloured pencils from a tin cup on a street corner while we get on with the rest of our jobs.

[00:48:50] Anna Stokke: Okay, so alright, well, this is fun. So what about cell phones? What do you think about cell phones in schools?

[00:48:58] Tom Bennett: I [00:49:00] love that you guys call them cell phones. God bless you. But mobile phones, which must sound archaic because, you know, they're mobile, you carry them about.  

If I was to design something, which would, which would impede learning as much as possible, it would look like a cell phone.

And this is no accident because, I mean, cell phones are, they're brilliant. I mean, they are a joy. They, I mean, I literally run researchED through my cell phone. You know, and without it, I run my life and I, and I, you know, tweet and I, I email, it's just, it's the most joyous thing to me, and I find it hard put down. 

The number of hours I've lost to pointlessly scrolling through stuff, you know, the pull-down refresh is essentially digital crack, right? And I'm a grown adult with pretty good mature levels of self-regulation. Mobile phones have got almost no place whatsoever in a classroom or a school. 

And I've been pushing really hard for it in the Department of [00:50:00] Education to try to make it, if not a legal ban, almost like a default assumption that mobile phones should not be seen in the school premises.

Now, there's lots of ways you can manage that. You can have them in pouches and so on or you can say kids don't bring them in. But, you know, good luck with that. I think the simplest way to manage it is simply this, that it needs to be in your bag, switched off all day long. And if we see it, we'll confiscate it until the end of the week and like your mom or dad or somebody has to come get it.

Something as simple as that. When enacted, it means that you never see a phone again, but every teacher, every administrator, every everyone involved in running the school needs to be part of that process. Otherwise they, they pop up time and time again. They are designed to be attention hoovers right there, there is television in there, there are movies in there.

You can talk to your friends in there, you can record stuff, there are games there, which will, which blow your mind. It's full of stuff to distract you and amuse you and to tickle that idle [00:51:00] bone of curiosity that we all possess. This is why I can spend, you know, half an hour looking at stupid videos of people falling off skateboards.

And then you go, “Whoa, whoa, stop, stop,” you know, “I'm getting married in half an hour.” That kind of thing. Children find this irresistible. And the idea that we should somehow just jog along with this and say to kids, “Oh, that's what all kids have got these days. We just have, we just have to go with the flow,” is madness because you wouldn't say that about cigarettes or something like that.

“Oh, they're all smoking these days. These crazy kids.” No, they're not allowed cigarettes either. And children up to the age of, I guess even 16, need to have really, really, really clear boundaries and quite stiff processes of regulation about how and when they're allowed to access this kind of stuff because they can, they can access all kinds of awful, grotesque, misogynistic, racist, horrific material.

I don't want my kids looking at that. And obviously, at home you might want to manage access to the internet in order to teach children the critical thinking skills and the, the [00:52:00] research skills to utilize the internet in a wise and safe way. Obviously, you want that too, but the best thing we can do in schools because people often say, “Oh, we need to teach them how to use these phones.”

Yeah, the best way to teach them how to use phones is to teach them that they don't have to be on them. You talk about focus. Well, you teach them the habit of not being online all the time because you can develop the opposite, the habit of “I'm always online.” 

And it's terrifying to see the number of kids whose social lives are now entirely conducted online. You know, they go home, and instead of going to their friend's house, they'll go onto their phones and talk to their friends, which is kind of scary from a social point of view, but from a learning point of view, they are crack cocaine, and they should be nowhere near a classroom.

And I'm not saying they don't have uses, but these uses are enormously outweighed by the detriments they present. And these detriments are enormously focused on the already disadvantaged child, the ones who are already the furthest behind our children with learning or speech and language processing difficulties and so [00:53:00] on.

These are the children who need to be protected from this environment the most.

[00:53:05] Anna Stokke: I have similar feelings about cell phones in the classroom. I teach university, so my students are 18 to 20 or whatever. And I don't let them have cell phones in the class. And that sounds really strict, I know, but I'm trying to teach them calculus.

I'm not sitting there on my phone. And if they have their phones in front of them, they will, they will get distracted. And they listen. Okay, fine. You know, they put away the phone. It has been a bit surprising to me sometimes. Like, for instance, one of my daughters was in a school that was a BYOD school.

Do you know what that is? A Bring Your Own Device school. Yeah, and so, the teachers didn't even have any control over this. 

[00:53:47] Tom Bennett: That’s madness.

[00:53:48] Anna Stokke: Like the, the kids were just entitled to bring their phones to school, and I think it was quite distracting. I think that there's maybe a shift coming with that though. We're hearing more in some of the [00:54:00] States that they're putting more, you know, restrictions on children having phones. 

[00:54:05] Tom Bennett: Oh. I mean we, in the UK we're doing this a lot now. And I helped to write the policy, which tried to underpin that because it is just, it is beyond, I'm not saying these things can ever be discussed, but it's kind of beyond the discussion now about whether they are a positive effect or not.

They are a hugely negative effect. This is massively researched in terms of their exposure to sexual grooming, to sexting, to declining their social skills or decline in their motivation in terms of their focus. It's just, it's all bad news. And whenever people say, “Oh, yeah, but they can photograph their homework from the board or take part in a poll to see how much they enjoyed the lesson.”

And you go, really? That's your counteroffer? That's why we're doing this. And I go to some schools, for example, even some schools in Sweden where, you know, you, you'll see kids at the back of the classroom openly on their phones and the teacher is not really allowed to say [00:55:00] anything. The idea is “well, as long as they're learning.”

[00:55:02] Anna Stokke: And that's rude. It's rude to be sitting on your phone when your teacher is teaching.

[00:55:06] Tom Bennett: Technology has moved faster than culture. This is, you know, very frequently has been the case. And with mobile phones, it's been particularly shown how this has been, been demonstrated. And I think, for example, you know, you, you'll see little kids on a subway or something, you know, openly and loudly having conversations on phones or playing a movie really loudly. 

And you still feel like this, this is an area where culturally we haven't caught up yet because the same kids probably wouldn't think it was okay to, you know, sing a song at the top of their voices, but they think it's okay to do something like this. Or they think it's okay to be on their phone while they're talking to you, and you're like, actually, it's not, but let's, let's try that again.

But it's up to us to guide them and to lead them and say, “Listen, we love mobile phones too. We are also a bit addicted to them, but you know what? Put them away.” That's what grownups do. Grownups put these phones away. So we're going to teach you and tell you how to get used to that.  

[00:55:59] Anna Stokke: On that [00:56:00] note, you mentioned in your book that teachers' expectations affect students' opportunities to learn, their motivation and their learning outcomes, and that students perform according to how the teacher expects them to perform. So the point being that teachers should have high expectations of students.

Would you mind elaborating on that a bit?

[00:56:19] Tom Bennett: Yeah, sure. I mean, of course, now this effect is fairly well documented, but of course I want to just clarify, it's only one factor. I mean, you can have really high expectations for people and they just, you know, stuff it up your nose. I mean, I remember starting education, and I used to think, I remember thinking, “It's going to be different with me. The kids are going to love this.”

I really care about the children. I really, I really love them. I want them to do well. I love my subject, and I believe in them. I believe in their ability to succeed. And I was kind of envisaging that kids would all be jumping on the desk shouting, “O Captain! My Captain!” which rarely happens in my experience.

And I remember finding that all of that joy, all that love, all of that ambition and hope and aspiration for them was dashed [00:57:00] against the cliffs of their complete indifference. Because some of them just weren't there to learn, some of them didn't give a damn, some of them, you know, thought school was boring and, and so and so on.

So it's not just about your expectations, but I think it's, it's a necessary but not sufficient condition of learning, which is that you come to them and say, “I know you can do this. I believe you're capable of this. I don't think you're stupid. I think that if you, if you can't do this just now, it's because you haven't been shown properly or well enough yet.”

Obviously, you know, if, if a child has got a neurological atypicality or some form of cognitive dysfunction, that's a different matter. Then we need to make very tailored, reasonable accommodations for children in those circumstances.

But for the vast majority, and I mean, you know, kind of 97% plus of kids, if they can't do something, it's because they haven't been shown or instructed how to do it properly, and they haven't invested in it themselves.

A lot of kids don't think they can do it. A lot of kids don't think they're academic in the same way that a lot of kids think, “Oh, I'm just bad [00:58:00] with maths.” I've heard teachers say things like, “Oh, I'm terrible with numbers.” You know, like, that's okay. Or that it's like something that's wrong with them.

Well, what it basically means is, is that you just need to do a bit more instruction that you haven't, you know, you haven't been taught well enough yourself, or you've, or you've let your skills decay or something along those lines. And I think seeing that is, is a very important part of the process. 

So you need to walk up to kids and say, “Hi kids. I really, really want you to be safe in this classroom. I want you to have a calm environment where you can learn because I believe you can do well here. I don't care how you thought you've done before. I know you can, and I'm going to work my socks off to make sure that you do. I'm also gonna make sure that in this classroom, you're treated with dignity because you matter. You matter to me. Your success matters to me. And because these things matter to me, these are the rules and the routines and the systems and the processes where that we're all gonna do with one another.”

And that's how you introduce rules and standards and, and expectations and so on. But [00:59:00] you begin from a place of values. You begin from a place of almost like a kind of, a kinda an emotional state of “I want you to be safe, I want you to flourish, I want you to succeed.” 

And that's, I, I think something that every teacher needs to remember. The reason why you're doing what you're doing is because you want kids to be successful, either at maths or as human beings or, or whatever. It's not just because you're punching your ticket and trying to get through the day; it's because you want them to be successful.

And if you can communicate that to kids, it goes a hell of a long way with a lot of them. It doesn't solve your problems. It doesn't mean that all the kids will be thinking, “Wow, this teacher really gets us. They really care.”

Because you know, there, there are bottomless wells of indifference in many children, but it's a huge beginning, and it's a much better start than, “Welcome to the class, open your books.” Cause a lot of kids will go, a lot, some kids will go, “Yes, sure.” And some kids will go, “Maybe,” and some kids will go, “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”

So you, you scoop as many them up by saying, [01:00:00] “Here's why I think we are here together today.” And the best part of it is that it's true. So you do have to start with this kind of emotional engagement. But that's when you then proceed onto structures, routines, and predictability because that's a rising tide that lifts all ships.

Every kid needs structure, routine, and predictability. That's how civilization forms, you know, that's the basis of rational discourse. That's the basis of all social communities; shared collective understandings of how we're going to behave with one another. In the absence of that, we have what Hobbes would call the state of nature, the war of all against all, and nobody wins in those situations.

The joy of this process is that I've seen classrooms and schools look very, very different and still be successful as long as they have sheer protocols and understanding. Cultures can be very different, but chaos always looks the same, always looks the same. And nobody thrives in chaos apart from predators.

The strong who prey on the weak, [01:01:00] that's not a classroom environment. You know, that's a jungle. 

[01:01:04] Anna Stokke: I have one last question for you. ResearchED is really great. I really commend you for starting that. 

[01:01:12] Tom Bennett: Thank you.

[01:01:13] Anna Stokke: It's, it's a really great thing for teachers across the world. Let's say we have a teacher listening who would be interested in attending a researchED conference. They can attend a conference anywhere, right? They can just go on your website and, and sign up if you're offering one in the UK or the US or whatever, right?

[01:01:31] Tom Bennett: Yeah, absolutely. If you go to, I really must get a more international address for that, but that's the one we started a few years ago so we just kind of rolled with it, you'll see events running around the world. Most of them are centred in the UK because that's where we have our base of operations, but we have numerous events throughout the world.

We've got I believe two events happening in Canada in 2024. I've [01:02:00] partnered up with, someone I'm sure you, I know that you know, Paul Bennett, who is of no relation to me. He's my Canadian dad. And he's been like a, like this pitbull, an absolute pistol of, of energy just creating relationships and building networks and putting these things together. 

We love putting these things on. As I say, they're nonprofit events. If someone can get to one, just buy a ticket, jump on a plane and come get to one if you can. If somebody wants to host one or hold one, we're also very open to people telling us about that too. We'll give you a hand and help you to do it.

It's kind of like a franchise arrangement, you know, hopefully, you'll do it with just a few checks and balances from us to make sure it's true to the vision and values. 

[01:02:44] Anna Stokke: Okay, so if someone out there wants to host a researchED conference, they could contact you, right? They could look you up and contact you. 

[01:02:52] Tom Bennett: ResearchED Saskatchewan is a must. Let's do that. Let's make that happen. 

[01:02:55] Anna Stokke: How about Winnipeg? 

[01:02:57] Tom Bennett: Winnipeg would be next on my list. 

[01:02:59] Anna Stokke: It's, [01:03:00] it is in the middle of Canada!

[01:03:01] Tom Bennett: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

[01:03:02] Anna Stokke: If it’s summer, we have great weather. As long as we don't have lots of mosquitos.


[01:03:06] Tom Bennett: I love Canadian weather. It's like Lord of the Rings. It's perfect. It's stunningly beautiful almost every single day of the year, apart from when you have ice storms and then no one can see anything.

I love the fact that almost every Canadian lives in this little belt along the border, and then above that you have like 15 hours worth of completely untouched wilderness. I adore this about Canada, so I can’t wait to come back.

[01:03:29] Anna Stokke: It's been wonderful talking to you today. Thank you so much, and thanks for all the work you're doing. It's, it's really great, and it's really making a difference. So thank you for coming on today. 

[01:03:41] Tom Bennett: My pleasure, and goodbye to everyone listening, goodbye to the listener!

[01:03:43] Anna Stokke: I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Chalk and Talk. Please go ahead and follow on your favourite podcast app so you can get new episodes delivered as they become available. You can follow me on Twitter for notifications or check out my website for more information. This podcast received funding through a University of Winnipeg Knowledge Mobilization and Community Impact grant funded through the Anthony Swaity Knowledge Impact Fund.

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