Ongoing Research – Kieran

Research: NOT For Academics Only
Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

How do you feel when you hear the words “research shows”? It used to grate on me and make me switch off because research was something academics, with high-brow qualifications did and having done an Open Degree through the Open University composed of a variety of unrelated courses, my lower echelons of British society and the world of academia, unfortunately, had always been a mystical place which I didn’t understand. Even the degree I gained from the OU was accidental! I hadn’t realised I was studying towards one in the first couple of years as even the basic points system was confusing to me. I didn’t know what BA, BSc, MSc or Phd’s were or how they related. I didn’t know what an undergraduate was compared to a postgraduate, until I did teacher training and saw the PG in PGCE stood for post graduate. Research then, was something done by other people who understood the system and the big words; it was done by clever people – not people like me.

The social structure of research gave me the perception it was unattainable for me, despite the fact I was interested and thought it looked fun. I am sure there are others in the world, especially in education, that feel the same. To research is to find things out, making it by nature to learn. When you think of it as learning, what is unattainable about it? We are capable people. The chances are, like me, you walk around having random ideas, wonderings and make predictions in your mind thinking nobody would be interested if you shared them or not knowing where to start.

Nevertheless, if you look at nature and the animal kingdom, curiosity is apparent. From the toddler opening all the cupboard doors to the ants exploring the kitchen, living organisms have a sense of wonder. Humans have a need to explore. Throughout history we have explored geographically; we explore our limits physically; we explore our limits emotionally and psychologically, and on a daily basis we explore intellectually.  By not stretching understanding of what is known, there is a danger that people become passive in life and the world around us wallpaper. Asking questions, investigating, comparing and hypothesising are all consequences of curiosity yet they are also the foundations of research – this is what research does, and it is accessible to all!

My activities and the ‘Researchers Mindset’

Due to the misconceptions detailed earlier in this post and a lack of understanding of the essence of research, it has taken me a long time to be able to say “I am a researcher” comfortably.

Most recently, I have been working on ‘The Floating Teacher’. This is an action research project that looked at how videos made by and featuring the teacher could be used in class by children to aid in the learning process. The videos were also accessible from home. It is a variation of the ‘flipped classroom’ model, offering learners more autonomy and freedom with the speed they assimilate information as well as an extra way to use the teacher as a resource. Videos were filmed and put together quite simply with the use of an Ipad and windows movie maker and deliberately have an ‘amateur’ feel to them; it was important to me the videos felt approachable and did not appear as polished articles. As a learner I know I do not engage with things if they do not have a personal element so the videos were designed to ensure this was included. Personalness is something I feel is missing from technology at the moment, hindering it in a way, and I wanted to see what impact a personal touch would have on learners use of the materials, if any.

Originally, the project design involved collaborating with other schools, measuring usage of the videos from home and at school within lessons and meticulous recording of data, statistics and website analytics. However, it quickly became apparent I had overestimated what was achievable at that point. I was so enthusiastic about the project that the complexities of reality hadn’t been factored into my plan so when events at school such as parents evening, assessment weeks, changes to timetables and meetings cropped up, I found it hard to supply the videos needed for the research to take place. The videos were made from my home setting and during latter stages, required someone else to help me film them. At a crossroads, the plan was scaled down to focus on my class only and fell into a natural pattern over the next six months, with the focus latching on to the children’s use of the videos in class, as that was something we could observe and had control over.

The practical element of our research finished at the end of March and after analysis of questionnaires and compilation of all information in April, is in the process of being written up, with a hope of initially sharing more about it at a conference in July ( When we initially discussed running this project as ‘research’ I put on a persona and was in a mindset of playacting (after all I am certainly not academic). I tried so hard to understand what research was, and what being a researcher is that I missed what now feels blindly obvious; life is research. Teaching is research. Getting to know pupils is research. We incorporate many elements of the role into our day-to-day activities without really realising yet for some reason, a perception that research is for those with higher level qualifications pervades. This is wrong! It is this perception that stopped me from being involved, or even realising that things like the Culture Chat project were a basic level of research ( Is the same perception stopping you from being involved?

Now that I have had a taste of it, I spot opportunities to research everywhere. In my head, I’ve already planned several with unbridled enthusiasm! Just as the sun parts the shadows, action research is beginning to lift the barrier that stands between those in classrooms and those that write research papers. The most valuable thing I have learned so far is that research is not about being published – it’s nice, but that is only a small part of it. Research is a mindset. It is accessible to all. It is a way of thinking that we can encourage within ourselves to help us engage with life more personally, and to understand our learners, classrooms and teaching professionally.


Connect with Kieran and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

The Leadership Issue – Kieran

Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Leadership: How to Keep Your Boat Afloat …
Kieran Dhunna Halliwell


“Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare

What does it mean to be ‘great’? I googled the word to see how great was defined in various dictionaries. My results told me great could mean big in number or in character. It can mean distinguished or noble. Some results suggested it could mean to be skilful, an expert or of high merit. In total, there were around twenty different meanings for the word ‘great’, which I found somewhat surprising because it’s a word often attached to leadership with little thought to what we are trying to communicate. What are we talking about when we say someone is a ‘great leader?’

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about leadership and of Shakespeare’s quote. Are some really born great? Is it nature or nurture? How is greatness achieved and what does that actually mean? And finally, if greatness is thrust upon someone, was that individual showing signs of being great in the first place in order to be thrust into their new position? In particular, I have been thinking about whether there is a set of skills to be learned in order to be a great leader, or whether people perceived as good leaders are just naturally suited to their positions. We often talk about nature or nurture in relation to talented people and this can be applied to leadership too – is Shakespeare right that some are just born great, is there a skill-set/knowledge or trait which allows them to achieve greatness or is being a great leader a combination of these two things with a bit of being in the right place at the right time added in?

Having spent the last few months ruminating on this, I have come to the conclusion that leadership is about impact. Many people have impact on the world or others but in terms of leadership this could be considered on a sliding spectrum where any smaller impact is at the lower end of the spectrum, but still requires leadership skills and those who are experts at applying these skills are at the top end of the spectrum because they are impacting a greater amount of something.

Recently, I became a fan of the UK television series Hornblower. The series charters the rise in fortunes of Horatio Hornblower, a fictional naval midshipman in the Napoleonic wars. Throughout the series we see Hornblower develop his attitudes and values, make mistakes and face tough dilemmas which all contribute to the series finale, when he eventually rises to the position of commander. Whilst I have no intention of writing a review of Hornblower (although I obviously enjoyed it so you may too!) the character did finally settle me on what traits I currently believe a great leader has. A great leader ….


Values others / Takes their position seriously but is one of the teamà has respect of peersà does not pull rank unless the ship is about to crash! 

One of the most telling moments in the series comes toward the end, when it is becoming clearer that Hornblower is set to become one of the greatest leaders. Despite being of a higher rank, Hornblower asks those who are on deck to drench him in water and give him a wash (rest assured, I’m not suggesting leaders should ask their teams to bathe them!) However, the scene demonstrates the necessity of leaders being able to move between keeping a ‘ship afloat’ and of being able to join is as one of the group. By doing a small act like this, the crew have affection for Hornblower above any of the other senior officers. Another aspect to being one of the crew is the recognition that any of those around him could potentially lead him one day – Horatio leads partly because he has key qualities but luck, connections and a steely drive contribute. Character traits are not fixed, implying others could potentially take the place of leader if they understood the role.

Hornblower does not set about to be popular or engage with people in an effort to keep them ‘on side’, but because he recognises they are as integral to the ship as he is. Without them, there would be no point in his own position. The same principles apply to education and business. A head teacher is only as good as the team they are working with and like Horatio, did not begin their career at a senior rank. If a team does not get to interact with their leader on an equal level they will find it harder to give unquestioning support professionally. Humanity connects over similarities and shared commonalities; great leaders take the time to get to know their teams rather than automatically expecting their teams should support them. By definition, relationships must be two-way.


Takes calculated risks

Horatio is a natural risk-taker. As far as leadership is concerned, this could be a detrimental quality if his personality were too reckless. He often dives into situations and acts swiftly but he only does so when someone else is at risk and there would be no consequence to anyone but himself if he got involved. Educational leaders often have to make decisions that will affect either their staff or the children in the school, which is quite a charge. The nature of progression involves an element of risk-taking; progress is the latest, the forefront, to be there an individual has to try something different or untested to be there. Great leaders consider the potential gains and losses, or benefits and detriment then make an informed decision. When something in place is working well, it can be tempting not to change anything in case the perceived recipe for success is lost, but ultimately maintaining a status quo in a world that is ever changing is a recipe for failure in itself.

An aspect of leadership that is often not discussed is fear. When important decisions or actions are your responsibility it is natural to feel fearful. Horatio often has moments when he is fearful, especially when heights are involved, but he manages the emotion and overcomes it in order to achieve success.  Average leaders acknowledge they have responsibility. Great leaders do not find fear a threat.

Great leaders are also aware that choices have consequences, regardless of which one they make. They weigh up the consequences and possible outcomes, employing their skills of calculated risk simultaneously before committing to a choice.


Has integrity and a natural reflective character

 One of the defining characteristics which makes Hornblower stand out from contemporaries is his integrity and growing moral compass. Throughout the series he faces challenges and dilemmas which require him to make tough choices. On occasion he is asked whether he made certain judgements or did certain actions – in effect, he is put on the spot to be accountable – and whilst sometimes having the range of emotion associated with these kinds of confrontation, he takes responsibility for his part without giving any defence or justification. For me, this is what makes a great leader. A great leader knows there are many things which influence a decision and knows they may not solely be ‘to blame’ for something, but as the saying goes they ‘choose their battles wisely’. Hornblower only ever speaks out against another if he deeply feels wronged. When focusing on success, he puts himself at the centre of any view and looks outwards; in the victories, he is associated with the glory but is quick to acknowledge it is only a victory because everyone else played their role well, and in the defeats he is quick to look at his own performance before anyone else’s. Interestingly, he comments more on a failure of strategy and then looks to who designs a strategy rather than immediately pointing a finger at any individual when things go wrong. Too often in education, I feel many leaders jump to the latter rather than the former.

Horatio is an ambitious man. By the end of the series, he has become accustomed to being promoted and realised he can get ahead quickly, spurred on by the support of those around him, particularly the support of his superior Sir Edward Pellew who has watched his career rise from the start. He has more confidence in his abilities, which lay dormant at the beginning of his career and begins to take control of situations. The majority of leaders start out just like Horatio; working their way up through ranks, taking on more and more responsibility for growing numbers of people trying to have an impact. The great leaders do not make reaching a certain destination their goal. They hope for it, but the goal itself does not become them.  These leaders become the greatest because they grow on the journey, adapt, reflect, feel and engage with the ever-changing world.

These are just my thoughts on leadership. They may change over time and with future experience. We’re all learners at the end of the day, even leaders. In my opinion, poor leadership is only poor when it’s repeated and left to be continually ineffectual and great leaders are those who maintain an awareness that they, like everyone else, are merely human too at the end of the day.



Connect with Kieran and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

The Culture Issue – Kieran

Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Why Think About Culture?  
– Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Culture is a hot potato. It is the make-up of life and our environment, yet it is rarely discussed beyond food, clothes someone wears or a country of origin. When people talk about it, there seems to be safe areas to discuss, which allow for a superficial conversation to take place, but one which requires no real depth. For example, when talking with children I have been asked things such as “is everyone in India Hindu?” and “why do they wear funny clothes?” which I’m sure you will agree, are straight to the point and could be seen as narrow minded depending on the context, yet I have also met many adults who wonder the same things but do not openly put the questions forward. Instead, they wonder in silence. This has led to me wondering whether this happens due to a lack of confidence or whether it is because people don’t feel they are allowed to openly share their viewpoints. How do you feel about cultural conversations? How do you define culture?

Last month, I had the privilege of presenting at RSCON4 (Reform Symposium E-Conference 4) after being invited by Shelly Terrell and Clive Elsmore. My presentation, which can be seen here ( was based around the Culture Chat Project and how the teacher could be used as a resource.

The project ( began with a yr3/4 class in Oxfordshire and the format was simple; spend 15-20mins a day discussing culture, sharing knowledge and making links between our own experience and values, and those of others. To start the project off, I asked some friends who were travelling to write a blog for us, which could act as a stimulus for discussion. Links to these are available on the main Culture Chat site. For e-safety and to ensure they were appropriate, all blogs were uploaded by myself to sites linked with my google+ account.

Throughout the project, we referred to the link blogs and considered what we were learning, the traveller’s experience and compared life in other countries to our own in England. These blogs, coupled with my own recent travels to Nepal were the only resources we needed because  once the children began talking, they suddenly started adding in their own knowledge such as where their families had originated from, or asking questions which we would work together to find out. Parents took an interest and gave support too, creating a community feel around the project and opening communication channels between them and the school. The children were excited and often talked about it randomly throughout the day, showing that Culture Chat had motivated them and that they were making links. We showed the rest of the school what we’d been doing, so the whole school community could be involved and countries from around the world began visiting our website!

It was exploratory; a foot in the water for me, to see what children’s understanding of the world around them was. I was a new member of staff in a new area with no real plan for how the project would work, but despite this my new Head Teacher took a risk and allowed Culture Chat to go ahead! When the project began, I was nervous. I worried about what people would think. I worried I’d be laughed at. Most of all, I worried people wouldn’t want to talk openly about perspectives of the world. The atmosphere in Britain over the last 12 months has become less welcoming to foreigners, peaking over summer when the government backed a scheme of ‘Go Home’ vans being driven across London. The media regularly sensationalise reporting, but particularly in crimes relating to any ethnic minorities, which is resulting in a lack of tolerance, a divide, misconceptions and misunderstandings to seep into the public consciousness.


However, the seeing the benefit to the children has made it all worthwhile. During those short five weeks, they suddenly became engaged in the world around them and much more independent in their learning. They not only took an interest in the project in school, but also from home and many explored global learning with their parents and extended families too. I found out extra details about my class, which I wouldn’t otherwise have known, such as who had family from around the world, food preferences, holidays and most importantly, the children’s opinions, perceptions and feelings about the world around them. I learned things too. I realised I had the same mind-set that I described earlier in this piece – despite having thoughts about culture, I never really voiced them before the project. I assumed before a conversation started that people wouldn’t wonder the same things I did, or would think me narrow minded if I asked what would seem like obvious questions. These assumptions are what stop society from engaging in active discussion and are what is limiting understanding not only of culture, but of each other as human beings.


It is forty one years since John Lennon wrote the renowned song ‘Imagine’. In it, he refers to a world without war, where people are equal with no religion or countries and the world lives in peace. How much has changed since this song?

Culture Chat was born out of my dream for the future, one where people would be interested in culture, race and ethnicity beyond the superficial layers. Imagine a world where we appreciate each other. Imagine our children have an understanding of the world on a global scale, not just of their local community. Imagine a world where sharing our personalities, our backgrounds and our values are not perceived as a threat to the next person but as a way to make friends and enjoy discussing experiences and ideas. As far as general global history is concerned, we’ve had a prolonged spell of peace in comparison to previous centuries; if this is to continue, we must start working together now.


Connect with Kieran and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.