Cambridge Outlook – sometimes it’s worth taking your eye off the clock

Behind every article in Cambridge Outlook, there are dozens of emails, phone calls, meetings and interviews. Much like the lessons going on in schools around the world every day, each issue of the magazine must have a plan. We carefully map out the content, where it’s going to be placed in the magazine, who’s going to write it and – very importantly – how much time it’s going to take.

cambridge-outlook_resized_2But, as with lessons, time management sometimes just goes out of the window. I anticipated that my interview with Doug Lemov (the subject of our expert interview in the last issue of Cambridge Outlook) would take about half an hour. However, as colleagues started to leave the office to go home while I was still on the phone to him, I realised that perhaps I’d exceeded that time limit! Doug is one of those people you could listen to for hours. Everything he says makes so much sense, and he’s extremely generous with his time and with sharing his learning. My point? That sometimes it’s OK to take your eye off the clock.

Doug is a teacher, author and the founder of a group of schools in the US called Uncommon Schools. The students at these schools are predominantly from difficult and low-income backgrounds but the schools are highly successful in terms of the number of students who go on to university. Doug firmly believes that with the right preparation, it’s possible to give every child the chance to gain a university place and to thrive there. He doesn’t necessarily believe that it’s right for everyone to go to university, but that every child should have the choice to do so since it is choice that opens up the world to young people.

cambridge-outlook_resized_3During our interview, I learnt a lot about the importance of school culture in setting high expectations, and about how both students and teachers need to feel safe and supported enough to make mistakes and to learn from them. To explain this, he told me a story. He was visiting one of his schools and as he was walking along a corridor, he spotted a teacher he knew. He stopped to say hello, but the teacher said: “Sorry, Doug, I can’t talk right now. I’ve just taught the worst lesson ever and I need to go and find my head teacher because I really want to talk to her about it.”

Doug was delighted – not about her disastrous lesson (something that most teachers will have experienced at some point in their careers) but with the fact that she felt able, and compelled, to analyse that lesson with her head teacher. It showed that the culture of reflection and support was strong among the staff at that school. That could only be good for staff development and morale and, ultimately, for students’ learning.

For some articles, we rely on interviews over the phone, as with Doug. For others, we may use email instead. Students seem particularly keen to communicate this way. Throughout the process of putting together the most recent issue of Outlook, we were having email conversations with a number of students who were about to start university or who had just finished their first year. This interaction was a real highlight. Initially, we asked them a few simple questions about how their schools and the Cambridge programmes they had followed had prepared them for university. Their answers far exceeded our expectations.

They shared their ambitions (“I basically want to help protect the environment and work for an organisation that does the same”); their fears (“I may find it difficult to cook for myself since cooking isn’t my forte”); their challenges (“At first the workload is a bit overwhelming”); and their philosophy (“I think university will be a testament of a person’s abundant talents, a place where you harvest the crop that you carefully planted as a seed”).

One of the roles of a magazine editor is to filter stories so that only the most relevant are published. The students’ responses were by far the most difficult to edit because they were so interesting and of such high quality. We weren’t able to include all of their responses in the magazine because we didn’t have the space. You can read the ones we did include in the ‘In Focus’ section of the most recent issue. However, we are planning to involve these students again in the future and we hope to keep in touch as they progress through their university careers.

Magazine publishing is a never-ending cycle, and the planning and writing have already begun for the next issue, due out in January 2017. We rely on the Cambridge community to help us find extraordinary stories and schools, so if you have something to share, please email us at

Read or download the latest issue of Cambridge Outlook.

Cambridge Outlook is published on behalf of Cambridge International Examinations by John Brown.

You can read more about Doug Lemov’s work in another one of our blogs: Advanced motoring in your classroom.

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