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Showing posts from 2014

1000 Years of Experience

I returned to teaching in 1992, having only completed one year when I qualified in 1976. So I have some twenty three years of experience in education and another sixteen years in business and commerce. My last fifteen years have been as a headteacher and I have learned so much, and continue to do so, that I wish I knew when I started in teaching and leadership that I know now. I share these thoughts with you all and my younger self.
I have always been an idealist and a bit of a late developer in everything I have tackled in my career and am still developing now. My first thought would be:

Stay true to your values and principles. These will develop over time, but should be the touchstone for your practice and the demands placed upon you during your career. Stick with your instincts. If something doesn't feel right to you, it probably isn't. So, question what you are asked to do and whether it is the right thing to do.Always remember why you wanted to be a teacher. For me it was …

14/15 Nurture

2014 has been another busy, exciting and challenging year. Some of the highlights have included:

Continuing to work with some excellent teachers and colleagues in both the schools I lead. We have pressed forward with our practitioner enquiry approaches to school and individual development. Four and a half years down this road and we are more committed and convinced than ever that we have chosen the right path for us. We have seen impressive impacts for our learners, for each teacher and for both schools. The totality of the curricular experience we deliver has continued to develop and we all understand how this is a continuous journey and process of growth, with no destination or finishing point. Seeing teachers of all ages and stages continue to grow and develop even more enthusiasm for what they do, and the impact they have, is one of the joys of school leadership. Hearing laughter in the staff-room so often is a key indicator for me of school well-being.Seeing the successes and ac…

A Teacher Enquiry Into Spelling

We have just recently completed our annual whole-school screening assessment, one aspect of which is progress in spelling. This particular area of language we have been considering throughout the school, and across our local cluster of schools. This is also an area that two of our teachers looked at as part of their practitioner enquiries in 2013-14, continuing into this session. Both these teachers are based in our upper school, teaching a composite primary 6/7 and a straight primary 7 class. The results being displayed by the pupils they taught are quite remarkable and I think worthy of sharing and consideration by others. The particular year group I am focused on is our current primary 7 class who have been taught by one or other of the two teachers during the last school year and this. The year group consists of 33 pupils, most of whom are 11years old. In the last twelve months two pupils have made over three years improvement in spelling age, with the highest making three years t…

Christmas: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

We are well into the run up to Christmas in all our schools. I have been thinking about this time of year from a school leadership point of view. This can be very much a best of times, worst of times,  for schools, their staff and the leaders. So let us consider the benefits and some of the possible pitfalls.

This period should definitely be the best of times for our learners, especially if like me you work in primary education. They get more and more excited as we head towards the holidays and the big day itself. It can, and should, be the best of times for them in school as well. Not because, as some seem to think, we are all winding down, with the pupils spending all of their time watching films, playing games, colouring Santas and having parties. Admittedly some of this might happen , but the reality is that this is a very busy period for pupils and teachers alike. This time of year is actually one of the busiest times in schools, especially primaries. We can have Christmas shows …

When Trust Turns To Rust!

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'Head of Communications, Chief Economist Royal Bank of Scotland' how would you like that as a job title, or even on your CV? Well, yesterday I met the current incumbent and what a refreshing and surprising experience it was!

When I saw the agenda for the latest network meeting for the SCEL (Scottish College for Educational Leadership) Fellowship programme my first reaction was something like, 'aye, right, what's this guy going to be able to say about leadership that is going to have any credibility?' I assumed he would come into the room stoop-shouldered, with the cares of the world almost visible on his shoulders. I was wrong. Never assume! Dr Andrew McLaughlin hails from Ayrshire, has played and coached football for many years, and likes to quote Burns, in addition to his responsibilities at RBS. He's a youthful 45 year old, has a family and obviously loves his job, and all the challenges it presents. Don't you always find people who love what they are do…

Parent Evenings: Something In Them For Everyone

I am just in the middle of four parent consultation evenings, two at each of the schools I lead. Having completed the first two, I have been thinking about what it is these regular events bring to the school, and the learning of the pupils?

Firstly, of course, the parent evening is the opportunity to inform parents or guardians of the progress in learning of the pupils. This is a key responsibility placed on all teachers and all schools. I have always contended that, if schools have good open channels of communication with parents, there should be no surprises for parents when they attend these evenings. Any issues, successes and achievements should have already been shared by teachers. This should be an opportunity to explore the direction of travel and how the teacher, parents and pupils can work together to help the learners achieve all they can. Timings are important. We moved ours to November as we, and our parents, believe this was the best time to review and share progress of t…

So, Just What Are The Benefits of Adopting Enquiry Approaches to Individual and School Development?

In my last post I wrote about some of the key steps to consider when undertaking enquiry approaches to individual and school development. In this, I wish to share the benefits of such approaches as identified by ourselves and others. We have been using this approach for over four years now, and the reason we are so committed to the continuation of this is because of the benefits brought to our learners, each teacher and the schools in which we work. We also think there are benefits for the system of education and other schools and I touch on some of these at the end of this piece.

Attainment and achievement has risen for all our pupils. They have greater understanding of their learning and this is deeper than we were previously able to evidence. Pupils are more informed and engaged in their learning and have clearer insights into their strengths and development needs. They are more able to articulate where they are in their learning and where they are heading next. They are becoming m…

So You Want To Enquire Into Your Practice?

For over four years now the schools I lead have been using practitioner enquiry as a vehicle for individual and school development. In that time we have transformed our attitude and practices in regard to professional development and whole school development. We are about to embark on our fifth year of enquiries into practice and we will shortly be sharing our plans with colleagues from another school as they begin their own journey with practitioner enquiry.

This engagement, as well as the fact that we have new staff of our own, has led me to consider and identify the steps we have been taking in our previous enquiries. I think it is important that teachers are clear on the process of carrying out an investigation, and so I have identified the key stages that need to be followed.  It is these that I am sharing with you in this post. They come with huge health warnings.

The first is that enquiring into practice should not be seen as a linear process, even though I am giving you the st…

Why I Blog And Tweet

As I write this I am currently engaging in a Twitter chat with educators from all over the world. The theme of the current chat is about how important is research to teachers, and whether teachers need, or should, engage with research. The hash tag for this chat is #gtcsPL so feel free to join in as this will be happening over the rest of this week, till Friday. This chat is exploring a new 'slow' format and that is why we have been encouraging people to drop in and out of the conversation over the course of five days. Being involved, the chat has felt anything but 'slow' as there has been so much interest and engagement as people have shared their views and challenged each other on many of those views.

This is a perfect example of why I love Twitter. It provides me with opportunities to discuss and converse around issues to do with my day job, Headteacher, and education, both of which I remain passionate about. There was a time when our only opportunity to collaborate…

I Am Fed Up With Awards!

I was asked this week if my schools would take part in yet another award scheme. This time it was for sports and, yes, we could gain Bronze, Silver or Gold awards simply by jumping through some simple hoops (not literally). My heart sank. I was shown the tick-list of criteria for the awards. As usual the first two, Bronze and Silver could be achieved quite easily through self-assessment, whilst the Gold award required a lot more boxes to be ticked, including the one marked 'development plan', and required external assessment. The format was pretty familiar, as this structure was the same as found in most of the award schemes we have either been involved in, or asked to be involved in.  The Green Flag Eco award scheme was much the same. One of my schools was heavily involved in this scheme before I arrived, and had already achieved Silver awards and their first Green Flag, the top award possible at that time. The school and the pupils were now fully engaged in striving for thei…

A Tribute Act Or The Real McCoy?

Last week schools were on half-term holiday across most of Scotland. I headed south to the warmer climes of Majorca and it was whilst there that I began to mull over some issues for school leaders. My thoughts were stimulated by some of the entertainment that was being provided by the hotel we were staying in. This consisted of one night with a tribute act to Rod Stewart, complete with gravelly voice and mullet wig. Another with 'Los Bitles', another tribute band, this time to The Beatles. Then finally a tribute to the Blues Brothers. All of these acts were very entertaining, though that judgement might have been influenced by the sangria, and they certainly new all the words and all the tunes. 'Los Bitles' even played all their own instruments, which also looked like the authentic equipment of the Fab Four. However, good though they were, myself and probably most of the rest of the audience of a certain age, were left still thinking a certain something was missing. Th…

Planning: What Is It Good For?

Last week we had a series of discussions in school around planning. I had conversations with other members of the SMT and with individual teachers, ahead of a full session with all teachers at the end of the week.

Planning has long been a subject of discussion and dialogue in our schools, as in most others. I see it has been the subject of a Twitter discussion last week, led by @Cherryl-kd, followed by her own post on the issue. I must say it is sometimes quite shocking to see and hear of some the practices that still prevail in other settings, and the rationale that lies behind these. But, I am a great believer that all schools and staff are unique in many respects and are all at different places in their journey of development, and this needs to be seen and recognised, before they can move on. We are certainly in a different position to where we were a few years ago, and that position keeps developing and evolving. This is why we needed the discussion.

I, and the other members of th…

Looking For Love?

I have been a Headteacher for nearly fifteen years now and I still love the job. I have been thinking about why it is I love this job so much, and why I think this is one of the best jobs you can have in education. Certainly headship has its challenges, but what job worth doing doesn't? The difference between the Headteacher role and other challenging roles is that every day you are making a difference. You make a difference for pupils, for colleagues, for parents, for the community and for the wider education system. I can honestly say that I would struggle to think of many days where I have not gone into work looking forward to what the day had in store, including all of the unplanned for surprises.

Last week I was at the Scottish Learning Festival and I heard a number of headteachers speak during presentations, and had conversations with others, about how they came to find themselves as school leaders. To a man, and woman, they all said they never started into their teaching ca…

Overnight Success?

Had a week of highs this week. The week started off in school on Monday working with staff and pupils of both schools I lead. Then on Tuesday I was off to the new Scottish for Educational Leadership (SCEL) headquarters in Glasgow for latest network meeting with colleagues on the SCEL Fellowship programme. We started with a meeting and discussion with Clive Dimmock from The Robert Owen Centre of Glasgow University. Clive spoke to us about his take on whether high performing leaders are born with the necessary dispositions required for such leadership, or if they could be trained into these dispositions. An interesting discussion then ensued in which we acknowledged the complexity of school leadership and the demands placed upon headteachers every day. We also recognised those tacit skills and attitudes that school leaders develop over time, and with experience, that contribute to high level leadership practices. My own thought is that many of the skills required for good or very good l…