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All that glitters is not gold

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As an educator, my aim is to help all the learners in the schools I lead to discover their talents and achieve their potential. I recognise them all as individuals and aim for them to retain their individuality as they grow and develop. One of my schools has 'Go For Gold!' as a school motto, put in place by a previous headteacher and pupils. I have never used this too much, as I have always had concerns about some of the messages it sends out. But this year, we took this as the theme for all our assemblies, and have shaped these around the qualities and dispositions we all need to be the very best we can be. So we have talked about collaboration, perseverance, persistence, resilience, and pupils have shared successes and achievements they have had both in school and outside. Some of these have involved pupils in winning medals and trophies, but many more have been about personal achievements that are more intrinsically valued than extrinsically recognised.


However, I still fe…

Becoming semi-detached

Since I made the decision to retire from my Headteacher role before Christmas, I have found myself in a really strange position, both professionally and personally. I have become semi-detached from both my professional persona, and my personal one.

Since my imminent departure  became common knowledge, and I began to get my head round this change, I have found myself in a number of  almost surreal situations, where I am still thinking and acting as a headteacher, but at the same time I have been thinking of my future, as well as the next incumbent in my role. Sometimes this has made decision making easier, and sometimes decisions have become more difficult to make.

Decisions about future activities, that are to happen after the Easter break, have been a little easier. Some I have been able to ignore, delay or leave to the next person in post to consider. Trying to second guess what any new school leader may want to do, is difficult, and probably  undesirable. I still have to lead the …

Unblocking those JAMs in the system

I attended a headteacher meeting this week, where amongst the discussions and dialogue, was consideration of what we might do in schools to help close attainment gaps, especially for those at risk because of deprivation factors. This does feel like a never-ending conversation that we have, but has particular significance at the moment given the national political agenda for education.  The Scottish Government have announced the provision of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) based on free school meals entitlement, which is to be paid directly to schools, as part of their strategy in driving forward excellence and delivering greater equity across the system. No matter what you think about this as a policy, there is no doubt that most schools are going to be in receipt of significant extra amounts of cash to help them deliver what the government, and schools themselves, are looking for.


Of course, as with all such funding there are strings attached, and it is clear that headteachers and schools…

Just doing the best we can, continually

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I was intrigued to see on Twitter last week a debate about whether Ofsted should be looking to remove gradings, and especially 'outstanding', given to schools following the inspection process. One person commented along the lines that if a school was performing to a 'good' standard, that should be enough. I tended to agree with them. In Scotland we don't have 'outstanding' schools, we have 'excellent' ones, as this is the top grading awarded in our inspection process. Something for some schools to feel proud of, others to aspire to and everyone else to feel inadequate about. Dylan Wiliam is often quoted as saying that 'teaching is the only profession where we know we are going to come in and know we are going to fail every day.' By this, he is simply pointing out that teaching, and learning, are very complex activities and with so many variables, that we can never get it absolutely right, for every pupil and on every day. We are doomed to a…

What does leadership look like in your school?

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A really good question for teachers to ask of their learners is, 'what does it look like when you are learning?' If you give this question to pupils and ask them to draw or write about themselves learning, you will often get a picture of a pupil, on their own, perhaps at a desk, and with a pencil or pen, jotter and books. They might include a computer screen and, if you are lucky, the child in the picture may be smiling. Not so in the example below.




If you have not carried out this exercise, try it. You may be surprised at the results. What you get is the child's construct of what learning is, and what it looks and feels like. If you get results like the one above, you can explore this more with the learner and it can give you some remarkable insights into how leaning is perceived by the learners in your class. It can also be a stimulus for some soul-searching and reflection on your own part. I suspect if you were asked to draw learning taking place in your classroom, or e…

Differentiated Learning and Development for School Leaders

As a headteacher for eighteen years now, I have completed and endured lots of professional development. Some of this was truly inspirational and has had profound effects and impacts on my thinking and my practice. Unfortunately, a lot of it failed to deliver the same outcomes. I would say that the professional development and learning that has had the greatest impact have been those identified and chosen by myself, as part of a process of continual reflection and professional development and growth, matched to my individual needs. Why would it be any other way? The trouble is that is not how a lot of centrally organised professional development for leaders operates. It should, but it doesn't. 'Yet!' as Carol Dweck might observe.


No, as a school leader you are subject to much learning and professional development, that is identified and directed at you by your employers. When I first began my journey of professional development as a new school leader, I was like a sponge, s…

Some reflections on what works in school leadership

The following are some of my reflections for school leaders already in post, and those aspiring to such roles, on some of the strategies and approaches that I feel help produce the best results for you, your learners and the schools you lead. They are a reflection from my eighteen years as a headteacher, or principal, and are some of the key insights I have gained in that time. The list is not exhaustive and it is personal to myself and my contexts. But, I offer it in the hope it may help some, and stimulate debate or thinking for others.


Prioritise people and relationships: It is very easy to get sucked into focusing too much of your time on systems and structures, when in fact it is the people you lead and collaborate with who will make the difference. You can have the greatest systems and structures in place, but if you don't have the right people, or you neglect the people you have, these count for little. It is your teaching and support staff, pupils and parents,  who make the…