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Nine lessons for teachers from Ed Balls on Strictly

The former education secretary-turned-dancing sensation has finally left the #glitterball dance-floor, and TES felt the occasion could not go unmarked

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The former education secretary-turned-dancing sensation has finally left the #glitterball dance-floor, and TES felt the occasion could not go unmarked

Ed Balls has finally left Strictly proving that all good things really must come to an end. Having hypnotised/traumatised the nation with his extraordinary hip thrusts and unforgettable outfits, there’s no denying that he has done more to improve teacher morale than he ever managed from a desk in Whitehall. As he bows out, it seems appropriate to look at the legacy of his dancing career and what it means for the teaching profession.

Here are nine things all teachers and pupils can learn from Ed Balls on Strictly:

1. How to style it out

We’ve all been there Ed. At some point in every teacher’s career will be a moment where you look an idiot in public. We take too many assemblies, lead too many meetings and teach too many classes to possibly avoid this. And while I doubt many of us will be seen sequined up and strutting around like some demented cockerel in front of millions, Ed’s capacity to style it out (again and again) is a valuable lesson for us all.



2. Trust the experts

There is no greater symbol of trust than allowing someone to dress you like a shiny blue penguin and getting you to work it Gangnam style in front of millions. Ed’s willingness to place his trust in the vision of others demonstrated a level of co-operation many head teachers can only dream of getting from their staff (whilst also gifting us the priceless memory of that near disastrous lift in the American Smooth).

3. One-to-One tuition really is the way forward

While in office Ed Balls championed one-to-one tuition “for all pupils that need it” and he certainly practises what he preaches. By week 7 notoriously hard to please judge Craig Revel-Horwood told him, “I can’t believe I’m actually saying this…you are actually improving.” As he bowed out this weekend Ed was full of praise for his Strictly partner Katya Jones saying “She is just the best there is. Absolutely amazing.” In return an emotional Katya told presenters, “I absolutely love this man, it’s my first series and I couldn’t have wished for better.”



4. Get the class onside early on

Despite languishing almost consistently at the bottom of the leader board Ed Balls lasted an impressive 10 weeks in the contest as viewers voted in their droves to keep him in. On his final show head judge Len Goodman crowned him “Ed Balls: The People’s Champion” proving to teachers everywhere that you can do great things if you can only the crowd on your side.

5. Don’t play it safe

In a profession where risk-taking is actively encouraged Ed Balls is leading the way. Whether it’s descending from the Blackpool ballroom ceiling on a flaming piano or hip thrusting with a vigour that seems to teeter on the edge of landing him in hospital, each week has seen our hero go storming further and further away from his comfort zone (He’s obviously taken that “if you don’t make mistakes you aren’t learning” mantra to heart).



6. Dress code does matter

Don’t agree with your SLT’s dress code policy? Attempting to get away with another day teaching in your tracksuit on the basis that “you might do PE”? Ed Balls has proved that a half-hearted approach to workplace dress-code is never to be tolerated (and we still have the image of that matador outfit burned onto our retinas to prove it.)

7. How to receive feedback

Judge Bruno Tonioli called his Gangnam Style salsa “the best worst dance I’ve ever seen” while fellow judge Craig Revel-Horwood branded him “technically terrible”. But as the judges laid into his technique week upon week Ed Balls simply lapped it up and carried on regardless. It was a masterclass in how to take constructive criticism on the chin without bursting into tears, yelling back or locking yourself in a stock cupboard: a perfect model for all teachers unsure how to handle those tricky lesson observation debriefs.



8. Enthusiasm is important  

Good classrooms run on energy and enthusiasm and Ed Balls on Strictly has provided a shining example of just how far these qualities can take you. Not for him the gritted teeth and grim resignation at the prospect of another week floundering around in sequins, Ed genuinely looked like he loved every minute.

9. Learn to laugh at yourself

You won’t get far in teaching if you take yourself too seriously. In this respect Ed Balls has been a leader in the field. Of course laughing at yourself is probably the only way to go when the whole country is laughing with you but seeing a high profile politician who both recognises and can laugh at his own failings is always going to endear you to the profession (Michael Gove please take note).

In a world in which most politicians will go to any lengths to avoid looking bad, it is refreshing to find one who is not only willing to face the music but also to dance; and to dance in a manner that we are unlikely to see again. Ed Balls we salute you. 



Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym. She writes a weekly column in TES magazine, and is a teacher in the Midlands.

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