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Nurture 15/16


2015


I wrote my first Nurture post last year. (14/15 Nurture 31/12/14) When I look back at my aims for 2015, I I managed to achieve most of them. I didn't really reduce my time on Twitter and this is probably explains why I didn't get on with writing another book, or with writing my paper with Gillian Robinson from Edinburgh University. Gillian and I did manage to sit down a couple of times and start pulling something together, but in the end we were both so busy we never got round to completing what we intended. Mind you, we have identified a number of papers we could write about our experiences with practitioner enquiry, and we have recently completed a recorded interview for the University website about our work together. Small steps forward.

My year started with a visit to Cincinnati for the ICSEI conference. A tremendous experience for me as I had the chance to rub shoulders and engage with many of the world's leading educational thinkers and researchers. The 2016 ICSEI conference is about to happen in Glasgow next week and I look forward to meeting up with so many people I met in Cincinnati, and others who I have met online as a result of my attendance last year. This is a fantastic opportunity for educationalists in Scotland to engage with such a high profile event that brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers. One of the innovations, and highlights, at Glasgow promises to be the 'Practitioner Day' on the Saturday, when practitioners will be showcasing their work.

Early in the year I successfully completed the fellowship programme with the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) and was made a Fellow of the college in March. This was significant for me personally, but also for SCEL, a fledgling organisation on the Scottish education scene, but one which is going to be vital in developing system leadership and leadership at all levels. I had the chance to meet and work with some excellent people during the course of this initial Fellowship programme, all of which helped develop my thinking and impacted on my practice. New friendships and collaborations were established which will hopefully help the college to move forward, enhance the education system in which we work and have impacts for learners.

I was as busy as ever in my school role and one of my schools was visited by the HMIE early in our summer term. This increased the business for us all and throughout I tried to prioritise the well-being of staff. We worked hard to keep things as 'normal' as possible and to reduce anxiety levels amongst staff. We were successful in this, and a visitor during the inspection week commented ' if you hadn't told me, I would not have known an inspection was taking place. Everyone was so calm.' The results were good, but we still remained dissatisfied by our grades and the whole process. We still feel the inspectors come in with a particular 'model' of what they want to see. If you don't fit that particular model, it is harder to be awarded the gradings you think your staff deserve. The fact that we had three retired teachers in school doing supply work during the inspection week seemed to be of little significance to the inspectors either. Anyway, it passed and we determined to keep moving on with the priorities we had identified for ourselves. It did mean we all were even more tired than normal when we reached the end of the school year. In truth, staff were still a little flat on their return in August, but we are back up to speed now.

My summer 'break' started with a first visit to Cardiff in Wales, where I had been invited to speak to
headteachers by the Incerts organisation. I met more people who were working hard to make a difference for all the learners in their schools, and in the face of mounting challenges and diminishing resources. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and apologies to all again for over-running and delaying dinner! Welsh schools had been given a new curricular model, developed by Graham Donaldson from Scotland, very similar to our own Curriculum for Excellence, and we're just beginning to engage with this. I spoke to them about how, as school leaders, we might maintain our mojo in the face of mounting agendas and challenges. I hope I was able to reassure many of them and point one or two in the right direction. After this visit, my summer break truly began, so did the rain! I did attend various Pedagoo teacher events over the year, other conferences and the first Scottish ResearchEd. I enjoyed them all and learned from each of them. I just love events like this, organised by teachers, for teachers and no hidden agendas.

I continued to blog over the year and looking back at my posts, I see the ones that attracted the most interest were the ones written quickly and passionately about issues I had strong views about. The most viewed post of the year was 'A first response to Nicola Sturgeon'. This was my immediate reaction to the new National Improvement Framework (NIF), which included the reintroduction of national standardised testing into all primary schools and the early years of
secondary in Scotland. Suffice to say, I am not a fan! I did come up with a tweet that said 'The NIF is
naff' but never sent it, as I tried to give a more reasoned response. There were many disturbing aspects to the NIF, one of which was how the 'London Challenge' was being used as evidence to support its introduction. This fails in so many ways, not least of which is recent research that has shown the results achieved in London were more down to the excellent work being done in primary schools before the 'challenge', led by Tim Brighouse, even started. Two great lessons of my year, engage critically with all 'research' and remember context is crucial.

I had as part of my aims for the year to keep focused on staff well-being, so it has been a real pleasure to be engaged and part of the #teacher5adaySlowChat on Twitter at the end of the year. I really think we all have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to focus on staff well-being, as well as our own. Failure to do so, leads to diminished performance, plummeting morale, high absence rates, burnout and other consequences that can only be detrimental to the young people we work with. The levels of engagement we have already had with this chat demonstrates that this is a real issue we have across our schools and our systems. There is plenty of rhetoric about the issue of well-being, but not enough action. As I have said many times, we really have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, if we are to address the issues, for the benefit of all.

As I said earlier, I didn't manage to decrease my time on Twitter much. Why would I? I have found Twitter so useful in developing my professional/personal learning networks. I have engaged and collaborated with educationalists and educators from across the world, and they continue to help me develop better understandings, in order to improve my practice. This engagement has allowed me to keep abreast of latest research and thinking from lots of different systems and I have used this to help me in all aspects of my role. Hopefully, I have helped others in a similar way. The joy of Twitter is that you can engage as much as you want, at times and places that suits you and with a focus that is purely self-directed and not set by the agendas of others. It does have its drawbacks of course, and I do worry about the tone of a lot that goes on. Some people are very dismissive of others and you can feel the same sort of cliques you find in some staffrooms in operation at times. Perhaps this is one reason why we struggle to get higher percentages of teachers engaging on Twitter. Trust and respect are vital in schools and are equally important online.

2016

This promises to be as busy as ever. My priorities won't change, as long as circumstances do not conspire against me. As with any school development plan, what I envisage for 2016 is not set in stone  and may change as the year progresses, circumstances change and new opportunities open up. Some aspects are already known, others have yet to emerge.

I will certainly keep writing. Writing is almost a therapy for me and it helps me develop my thinking and improve my practice. As with anything, if you want to get better you have to put in the effort and keep at it. I want to improve my writing, so I need to do more. I have the opportunity to contribute to a number of books and I might even get cracking with the next one of my own. I will certainly keep blogging and will continue to write for magazines, journals and other blogs. I will keep Tweeting.

I will keep attending conferences and teacher-meets, as a speaker, contributor, or both. I have found these invaluable to my development as a school leader, and as the lead learner in the schools I lead. My first is ICSEI Glasgow 2016 and there will be almost six hundred educators and researchers at this event, which lasts four days.

I have been asked to join the board of the Scottish Parents Teachers Council (SPTC) and look forward to this new role contributing to building positive relationships between parents and schools. 

I will continue to prioritise my own well-being, that of those I lead, and of colleagues. I will make sure I keep involved in a healthy range of pursuits and activities that have nothing to do with work. These will include, walking, cycling, photography, reading, golf and another visit with my wife to our daughter in Perth Western Australia. I hope to start drawing and painting again.

I will keep smiling, dreaming and look for the positives more than finding the negatives.

I will face the challenges of diminishing resources and a changing political scene, local and national, positively and endeavour to work with colleagues at all levels to minimise the impacts for learners. I will still speak out when necessary and try to provide a voice for those who have no voice, or who are afraid to speak out. I will only fight the fights that my values dictate I should and which are worth the effort. The rest I will learn to ignore or exploit to keep the main thing the main thing.

I hope to continue to love my job and maintain my focus on improving and developing learning and teaching for all learners not only in my school, but in other schools. I will continue to view pupil development holistically and support the people I work with to be the best they can be.

Finally, I will not beat myself up about the things I don't get done and be more accepting of the fact that not everything goes according to my own 'cunning plans.'


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