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Evaluation: a process, not an event

Throughout my time as a school leader, and since, I have wrestled with the challenge of evaluation, in terms of measuring the impact of change, in a way which is meaningful and useful . Early in my career, such evaluation was very much viewed as an event, or events, that happened towards the end of a project, or piece of work, usually occurring towards the end of a school year. This was often a time filled with lots of scrabbling around looking for 'evidence' that could be put into some sort of report aimed at different different audiences. It felt stressful, concocted at times and often disconnected from the whole change agenda. Evaluation was a thing to be endured at the end of something else, with its main purpose consisting of proving you had been doing something to different people. Some of these would take what you gave them, and put that into their own 'evaluation report' for a cluster of schools, a local authority, or even a national system.

A major issue with …
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Don't look back in anger!

I was a pain at school. I mean as a pupil, rather than as a teacher or headteacher. Though I suppose there are some colleagues and former line-managers that might wish to dispute that second point. Anyway, getting back to my school days, I was a perfect example of a hyper-active, mouthy, under-performing kid that teachers - then and now - can dread having in their classes. I liked to play to the audience of my peers, to get a laugh, often at some physical cost to myself. This was the era of rampant corporal punishment in education, and my antics often resulted in exasperated teachers resorting to physical punishment, trying to beat some sense and compliance into me, whilst also using the same 'strategy' to enhance my academic performance.

   I was thinking of this last week following the annual Connect, Scotland lecture given by Carol Craig creator of the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being. The theme of Carol's lecture was around Resilience and how we might go about d…

Why we might need more tortoises and fewer hares in education

We have heard Aesop's fable of 'The Tortoise and the Hare.' In this tale with a message, a tortoise challenges an arrogant hare to a race. The hare quickly leaves the tortoise behind. Being so confident,  he decides to have a sleep midway through the race. When the hare wakes, he finds the tortoise, who has kept slowly moving forward, has arrived before him, and has won. A common interpretation of the message of this fable is 'slow and steady wins the race.'

Thinking of schools and education, I believe we celebrate hares too much, and tortoises not enough. School systems are full of people racing to do lots of things, as quickly as possible. Education is not a race. Education is a relentless process of personal enlightenment, growth and development. There is no end point. In that case, it is through adopting the dispositions and characteristics of the tortoise in Aesop's fable that we are most likely to keep making strong, steady progress. Such a relentless ap…

Improving versus proving

During the first two months of 2019 I have been able to attend a number of professional learning events across Scotland. What has been impressive about these events is, not only the breadth and range of development activity taking place across the system, but also the commitment, professionalism and determination of people to getting better at what they do.

What such events also provide, is the opportunity to develop my own thinking and understanding, through listening to the experiences of others and engage in a dialogue around the issues, experiences and insights of different participants. I believe that professional learning with the greatest impacts, should produce changes in facilitators and leaders, not just the participants.

This week I was facilitating a session on parental engagement, on behalf of Connect the parent/teacher organisation in Scotland. This session was with school leaders, and others who had responsibility for this particular area of school development. What I …

Parental Engagement: time for more rhetoric or meaningful change?

'Parental engagement in supporting learning in the home is the single most important changeable factor in student achievement' (Harris and Goodall 2007)

I have been thinking a lot about parental engagement recently. As part of some work with Connect (formerly SPTC), I have been helping develop and deliver some professional learning models around this crucial area of school work. As I have worked with colleagues, and read more, I have come to better understand the impact that deep meaningful change in this area could have, as well as how a lot of lip-service has been paid to true collaboration and engagement with parents, and the wider community, by schools and systems. This needs to change.

In Scotland the value of parental engagement has been widely recognised and is a key element of national and local policies. The work of Alma Harris and Janet Goodall is only part of a rich research base that has been used to inform policy and legislation. Work in Australia, Scotland the US…

The mechanics of teaching

When I was training to be a teacher, and I do mean training, in the early 1970s, I was able to buy my first car. This was helped in no short measure by a full student grant, and three years in fully-funded student accommodation. Those were the days! Anyway, I bought my first car for £120 and it was a mini-van of some age already when I became its proud new owner. At last, freedom and the ability to spread my wings beyond the immediate confines of Didsbury and Greater Manchester, as well as the vagaries of the public transport system, for the wide open roads that were to lead me to North Wales, the Derbyshire hills, the Pennines and the North Yorks Moors. I had developed an interest in potholing, which explains my destinations of travel on many weekends. I was also now able to get home to Tyneside easier too, casting off the shackles of British Rail and their fictional timetabling.

As a newly qualified and independent driver, I learnt many things, one of which was that, though iconic, …

Sporting models to support coaching and leadership

In his book 'Bounce' (2010), Mathew Syed writes about many things pertinent to education and teachers. At the start of his book, he reflects on the factors that enabled him to become the number one table-tennis player in the UK. He identifies what he considers the four key factors in his rise to the top. These were: having a table to practise on; having an older brother who was just as enthusiastic and willing to play and practise with; having access to an enthusiastic, highly skilled and knowledgeable coach; having access to a club, which was always open, to play against others and support coaching. Syed notes how his small town, and in particular one street and its immediate surrounds, were producing more outstanding table-tennis players then the rest of the UK put together! His argument is that this was more a product of those unique circumstances, that identified and nurtured table-tennis talent, rather than any innate abilities to be found in youngsters in his local area.