Brief Bio

James Nottingham is best-known for creating the Learning Pit, a world-renowned model for enhancing curiosity, determination and strategic thinking. He has been a teaching assistant, teacher and leader in schools across the 3-19 age range as well as founder of a multi-million-pound, award-winning social regeneration project to raise the aspirations and achievements of young people in north east England. In 2006, he created the company Challenging Learning, now employing 25 staff in six countries.

He is author of 10 books for teachers, leaders and parents; is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, an award granted for making outstanding achievements to social progress and development; and is included in the Future 500, a “definitive list of the UK’s most forward thinking and creative innovators”.

Full Bio

James Nottingham is the founding director of Challenging Learning, a group of companies with 25 staff in six countries. He is a world-renowned keynote speaker and author and creator of the Learning Pit®, one of the most popular ways to encourage and structure questioning, challenge, and reflection.

His first book, Challenging Learning, was published in 2010 and has received widespread critical acclaim. Since then, he has written many chapters for other people’s books teaching journals, as well as the following books as well as:

  1. Nottingham, J.A. (2020). The Learning Pit. Alnwick, Northumberland, UK: Challenging Learning.
  2. Nottingham, J.A., Nottingham, J., & Bollom, T. M. (2019). Learning Challenge Lessons: Secondary ELA. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  3. J. A. & Larsson B. (2018). Challenging Mindset: Why a Growth Mindset Makes a Difference in Learning – and What to Do When It Doesn’t. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  4. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2018). Challenging Early Learning. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  5. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2018). Learning Challenge Lessons: Primary. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  6. Nottingham, J.A. (2017). The Learning Challenge: How to Guide Your Students Through the Learning Pit. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  7. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2017). Challenging Learning Through Feedback. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  8. Nottingham, J.A., Nottingham, J., & Renton, T. M. (2016). Challenging Learning Through Dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  9. J. A. (2016). Challenging Learning (2nd ed.). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  10. Nottingham, J. A. (2013). Encouraging Learning: How You Can Help Children Learn. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  11. Nottingham, J. (2010). Challenging Learning (1st): Theory, Effective Practice and Lesson Ideas to Create Optimal Learning in the Classroom. Alnwick, Northumberland, UK: JN Publishing.
  12. Nottingham, J. (2007). Exploring the Learning Pit. Teaching Thinking and Creativity, 8:2(23), 64–68. Birmingham, UK: Imaginative Minds

It was as a teacher that he created the Learning Pit® – a student-friendly version of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Quite remarkably, the model has captured the imagination of educators around the world; indeed, do a search online for the ‘Learning Pit’ and you will find well over 200 million references. He also co-founded, a resource and collaboration site for teachers using P4C (Philosophy for Children) as a way to develop critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinking.

Before training to be a teacher, James worked on a pig farm, in the chemical industry, for the American Red Cross, and as a teaching assistant in a school for deaf children. At university, he gained a first-class honours degree (a major turnaround after having failed miserably at school). He then worked as a teacher and leader in primary and secondary schools in the UK before creating an award-winning, multi-million-pound social regeneration project supporting education, community groups and businesses across North East England.

In 2006, James co-founded Challenging Learning with Jill Potter (now Jill Nottingham!). In 2009, Martin Renton joined the team and since then, the three of them have established Challenging Learning in six countries: the UK, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the USA. Their team of 25 consultants, researchers, designers and admin staff support pre-schools, schools, colleges, and school districts with long-term projects that strengthen the lives of all learners.

James splits his work time between keynoting conferences, leading whole-staff training days; running demonstration lessons; writing and researching; and leading his team of company directors. He often headlines national and international conferences, as well as co-presents with well-known researchers such as Carol Dweck (Mindset) and John Hattie (Visible Learning). His presentations are characterised by a rare skill for blending arresting anecdotes, hard-edged research, gentle good humour and practical advice woven into truly compelling narratives.

Skolvärlden (Swedish Teaching Union) describes James as “one of the most talked about names in the world of school development” and the Observer newspaper in the UK listed him among the Future 500 – a ‘definitive list of the UK’s most forward-thinking and brightest innovators.’ In 2020, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, an award granted to individuals judged to have made outstanding achievements to social progress and development.

He lives beside the beach on the English-Scottish border with his wife, three children, two guinea pigs and two mini-sausage dogs. His family and friends think he’s a little too proud of his KWO Räunchermänner but still buy him one every year. He loves photography, beach walks, cliff runs, and cheering on his kids at their many sporting events.

Profile Images

If you have booked James to speak at your event, then you are welcome to use any of the photographs on this page. In all other cases, you should check with Challenging Learning before using any of our images.

Most of the photographs were taken by Andrew Billington or members of the CL team. All images are copyrighted by Challenging Learning.

Studio Shots
Action Shots

Profile Images

If you have booked James to speak at your event, then you are welcome to use any of the photographs on this page. In all other cases, you should check with Challenging Learning before using any of our images.

Most of the photographs were taken by Andrew Billington or members of the CL team. All images are copyrighted by Challenging Learning.

Studio Shots

Action Shots

Speaker Set Up

To ensure a high-quality presentation, please make sure the following is provided (shown in rank order of importance to James) …

A must
  • An AV set-up including projector and screen, plus either a HDMI or VGA cable (and 3.5mm speaker cable if sound is not going to run through the HDMI cable). James will bring the relevant USB-C adaptors for his Macbook as well as his own presentation remote.
  • A room and AV set-up that allows James Nottingham to have his laptop on stage with him. He likes to edit his slides in response to audience feedback and skip slides without scrolling through everything – neither of which can be done if his slides or laptop are situated elsewhere.
  • If a microphone is needed, then please ensure it is a head mic or lapel mic so that James can keep his hands free for presenting. A handheld mic is much more limiting, so please avoid these if possible.
Everything else is a bonus, including:
  • A clear stage with just a small table for his laptop. A podium is not needed, nor is a ‘top table’. James likes to move on stage so as to engage his audience, which means anything on stage can become an obstruction.
  • Lots of still water (not sparkling) throughout the presentation, plus a good coffee on arrival (double espresso is his poison of choice) would be perfect.
  • For full-day events, it works best to seat delegates at tables (3-8 delegates per table). If space doesn’t allow for this, then rows of chairs are fine.
  • High quality WiFi at large events can be useful to support online questions and feedback but is not a necessity.

James Nottingham has the skills of explaining the complex in a way which is accessible and inviting. He is challenging yet encouraging. The examples of how it could be and the insights into what success looks like will leave you wanting to do things differently without a bag of guilt to weigh you down.


One of the best PD opportunities I’ve ever experienced! Thank you, James Nottingham & Challenging Learning for 3 awesome days of learning!


Your keynote was perfect! Feedback from delegates identified your inspirational and thought-provoking keynote as the highlight of the day. I am sure the impact will be felt across our schools and nurseries for years to come.


Nothing short of an AMAZING speaker. Time flew by! Although it was in English, the language was never a problem!


James Nottingham is a teacher and leader, and one of the most talked-about names in the world of school development today


I thought it was an inspiring lecture by James Nottingham. I wish everyone in education could hear these important messages.


I attended the Mindset congress because of James Nottingham and wow, I was blown away. I enjoyed his presentation so much! I shared his ideas with my secondary school colleagues, and they were so enthusiastic.


James delivered a fantastic thought-provoking keynote that sparked debate and discussion amongst delegates alongside some excellent examples and nuggets of suggested good practice for them to take back to school.


Thank you so much for a fantastic Keynote speech at our conference yesterday, it was the perfect way to start a conference titled #BeInspired. The feedback from delegates has been fantastic and so many forms refer to your inspirational speech and workshop.


Hanging out this morning with James Nottingham, The Learning Pit during an @ROESeventeen Professional Development Session! Thanks for the opportunity to learn from this awesome Educator ROE 17!


James Nottingham has developed a rare skill for blending arresting anecdotes, hard-edged research and practical advice into a truly compelling narrative.


Get in Touch

If you have any questions, then don’t hesitate to connect with your main contact at Challenging Learning.

Alternatively, you are welcome to contact any of the following members of our team:


North America

Asia Pacific


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