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The peak-end rule: our memories are time and emotion bound



In 2011, I did my second school placement as part of the old Graduate Teacher Programme at Forest Gate Community School for 4 weeks. It was a very different place then compared to now. Students ruled the classrooms and the corridors were simply dangerous. Routines were non-existent, students would eat in class and watch full movies during double lessons. When I tried to open a lesson with a starter activity one day, the students literally laughed out loud and asked me which movie I really had planned for them. The end to the 4 week placement couldn’t have come sooner.

After leaving that term, I was asked if I would work at FGCS should a position become available and I replied, ‘over my dead body!’

Our memories are biased. We remember things based on how we felt at the time and how the experience ended. It is probably why we can be irrational in our memory recall.


2 years later, I rejoined the school.

The peak-end rule

This is otherwise known as the peak-end rule. It was largely attributed to the work of  psychologist, Daniel Kahneman who defined the peak-end rule as,

“a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.”

We’ve had a few ‘peak-end’ events over this last week haven’t we? For many last week, it was the football. Last night, the snow. This coming week, our schools have their end of term charities activities, various showcases and end of term celebrations. They are all positive things to end our term, which is good if the peak-end effect is anything to go by.

The 4 elements of a peak moment

As we enter our final week of this term, I’d like to influence the peak-end effect with what has become a traditional end-of-term video compilation of all things teaching and learning at Community Schools Trust. But before you watch it, I ask you to read to the end first!

According to Chip and Dan Heath, in ‘The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,’ there are 4 elements of a peak moment and the best peak moment will contain all 4 elements:

1 Elevation
‘These are happy moments that go beyond the usual course of events due to sensory pleasures and surprises.’

When you watch the video, you will see moments of joy and pleasure as we practise our craft with each other, enact it in the classroom and celebrate each other’s efforts and successes.

2 Pride
‘These are the moments that capture us at our best, whether it’s a moment of triumph or a moment of bravery.’

The captures of colleagues in the classroom are both moments of triumph and bravery. It is hard to change the way we’ve been doing something for years. Changing habits takes effort and time. So when we do, we should be proud.

3 Insight
‘These are our finest moments; they transform our perceptions of ourselves and the world and provide a sobering moment of clarity.’

I hope you will have this moment when you watch the compilation video. Our craft in the classroom is what defines us. When we are at our best as teachers, we are the best teachers. And our students deserve nothing less than the best.

4 Connection
‘These are moments that are social…’

For example, our deliberate practice sessions. Or our intellectual preparation sessions. Or our departmental shares of great practice. These are all moments of social connection. And the more we focus on the positive through these means, the more the good practice will grow.

Let’s influence the peak-end effect

We have 4 and a half days left of teaching. The peak-end rule means we are privy to the potential end-of-term pitfalls: frosty weather conditions…disrupted routines due to cover…grumpy colleagues…

This week then, let us adversely influence the peak-end rule with what we do best: we will continue to perfect our practice and teach, right to the very end. Whatever the weather and whatever the score.

Here’s the video!

Have a great week.