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Showing posts from November, 2013

The Perils of Back Seat Drivers!

This week in school I was visited by a company representative and her area manager. They had made an appointment to show me some new resources they had been developing. The rep was very interested to hear about the programmes we were using in school to deliver literacy and numeracy learning. I pointed out that I wasn't that interested in programmes 'as we preferred to focus on learning and teaching.' 'Oh, I haven't heard of that one,' was her response. I stopped myself from bursting out laughing and explained how our focus was on the learning and teaching experiences going on in each classroom, and with each teacher. I explained that I want, and have, teachers who know exactly where children are in terms of their learning and understanding. They then use this knowledge, their baseline, to help them plan for new learning that builds on this. These plans identify learning outcomes, agreed with the pupils, and would help them choose from a range of resources to de…

Principles, Not Performance!

For a number of years now a common call to those in education has been for us to share good practice, and to do more of it. We all need to stop reinventing the wheel and working in isolation on the same things. We need to share more. I have a problem with this. I don't think sharing good practice works. It is one of those ideas that sounds as though it's a no-brainer. Of course we should share good practice! No-one would suggest we share, bad or even satisfactory, practice. It would seem to make sense that when we identify good, or excellent practice, that we should encourage the sharing of this amongst our staff or schools. I suppose the theory goes that by observing and sharing good practice, that such practice can be disseminated and copied by those it is been shared with. To be honest, I have seen this work. The only trouble is, that it only works to a limited extent, and is rarely sustainable.

What such an approach to school and individual development results in is a shal…

Parents, Don't You Just Love Them?

I have just finished two nights of Parent's Evening's at one school, and face another two at the other school I manage next week. I have a confession. I really enjoy them! I count them among the highlights of the school year. Yes I know they keep us all in school, or drag us back, on what are often long and cold winter nights at this time of the year. Or, they can keep us from enjoying the delights of spring or summer evenings, when the sun can be guaranteed to be shining invitingly outside. I also appreciate the time that teachers put into preparing for such evenings. But we do all this, to paraphrase the L'oreal adverts, 'because they are worth it!'

I am a firm believer in the positive benefits of true partnership working between schools, teachers and parents. Not the ticky-boxy, or one-sided type of partnership, but the type that is deep, sustained and valued as a means of achieving the best for all our learners. By establishing positive relationships with all o…

We Are Not Alone!

For the last there and a half years the schools I manage have been working very closely with colleagues from Edinburgh University. In that time we have developed a relationship built on mutual respect that has, I believe, produced benefits for both organisations. We in school have had access to a level of professional expertise, knowledge and experience that has enabled us to update and improve our understanding and our practice, to the benefit of all our pupils. The university has had the opportunity to work closely with committed staff, trial new approaches to teacher development, understand and witness the complexity faced by schools and teachers in managing curriculum reform and development and help them in understanding how they may build sustainable partnerships with schools and local authorities.

So if this is seen by both schools and university as a 'win-win' situation why are such partnerships and joint working not more common? There has been for many years an atmosph…

In Praise of Non-Conformists

Leadership can provide us with a heady mix of emotional highs and depressive lows. Fortunately I think we all experience far more of the former than we have to endure the latter. In schools the highs are usually associated with progress from,and interaction with, pupils and staff. In this post I would like to focus on the staff.

What type of staff do you look for as a school leader? What qualities do you look for in your staff and colleagues?

Do you look for people who look like you? I don't mean they are some sort of doppelgänger, I mean that they share your views, attitudes and ways of working. It is important that staff can and do work together as part of a team, and that they share and endorse your establishment's collective values, ethos and culture. They should contribute to the collaborative culture of the school. However, I would like to argue that it is important that they remain individuals. Their credence in the school should not hinge on their endorsement and compl…

I'm A Teacher, Not A Mechanic!

Last year We heard from Dylan Wiliam, Paul Black and others about their concerns regarding Formative Assessment and how the implementation and introduction of their findings and recommendations into schools had stalled, and required revisiting. They noted that we were well over ten years from publication of their paper 'Inside the Black Box' but we still weren't there with delivery of FA. Why? Wiliam argued that their original work and ideas had been taken by others and almost corrupted as these were broken down into mere indicators for Heads, inspectors, observers and others to look for as confirmation that FA and it's strategies were in place in a school or classroom. Various providers of CPD to schools and teachers began running courses on the techniques and gimmicks teachers could use in the classroom to demonstrate their application of FA principles into their practice. So we were flooded with WALTS, WILFS, traffic lights, thumbs, lollipop sticks, three stars and …

Jump In The Deep End!

Depth in continuous professional development is just as crucial as depth in learning? We in Scotland have recognised the importance of deepening pupil's learning and understanding, and this is reflected in one of the seven key principles of curriculum design underpinning Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). What this has allowed schools to do is to slow down in order for our learners to deepen their learning and understanding, to understand how the learning connects across the curriculum, into the real world and in different contexts. A well overdue recognition that it is depth of learning that is important, not just coverage.

Unfortunately, I don't think we are there yet in applying the same principles to CPD! I have long believed that in CPD we have also been too involved in encouraging staff and schools to do lots of different 'things' in terms of professional development, moving from one to another, with little regard to the impact all these activities actually had on …

Don't Let The Tail Wag The Dog!

An interesting question for school leaders to ask is, ' who decides on the priorities for development in your school, or schools?'  I am sure that most would reply that they, and perhaps their staff, do. Some may even say that actually it's our self evaluation processes that determine our priorities.

If this is really true, why then are so many Headteachers and SMT fixated on what OFSTED or HMIe or others say they are looking for as their priorities? That is not to say that we should take no notice of what these organisations are saying, of course we should, just as we do with others who might have contributions to make to the Education debate, and help develop understanding. But my concern is with the number of schools and management teams who are constantly scrutinising the latest newsletters or updates from such organisations and then adjust or change what they are doing to respond to this. Why do some Heads and their teams constantly screen latest school reports after …

Dear Michael

Dear Michael,
I am writing in response to your speech to teachers at the Hackney Learning Trust regarding your vision for future school leaders. Whilst I actually agree with some of the content of this speech, I am afraid I have to disagree and express concerns about many of the key messages you were giving to your audience.

As a Headteacher myself, I must say your description of  many school staff rooms was not one I recognised. This could be because I am a Headteacher in Scotland, or that such staff rooms are not as common as you seem to think. Perhaps the ones you experienced in your role as a Headteacher  have clouded your view of what staff rooms are like? The staff rooms I experience are usually full of committed, professional staff who are working hard to improve everything they do, and outcomes for the learners in their charge. They are doing this in the face of diminishing resources due to the current financial difficulties, and the almost constant attacks on them by Governme…

I Don't Encourage Innovation!

Yes folks, I really don't encourage innovation in the schools I lead. I expect it!

Amongst the characteristics I expect to see in all staff, teachers and support workers, is a constant curiosity that is enshrined in the question, "what if?" I want staff to ask this of themselves and their work constantly. I want them to ask it of each other and importantly of me. I want staff who are reflective and professionally curious. If I wanted sheep, I would be a farmer!

I expect staff to be constantly engaged in an examination of what goes on in classrooms and around school, and thinking about, and identifying, how we might do things differently, and better. That is not to say that everything is in a constant state of flux, or that we promote change for change sake, because that is not what we do. Therein lies madness and is the surest way to destroy practice and morale in staff. Innovation and change should be not based on whims, they have to be based on sound research and pract…

Know Where You Are, Before You Decide Where You Are Going

I remember seeing a comedy sketch on TV from years ago, where a couple of lost  travellers stop to ask directions from a local character leaning on a gate to a field. "Where you heading?" The helpful local asks. When he is told, he replies, "well ye can't get there from here!" The travellers were  suitably nonplussed.

I have a similar reaction when schools, and others, look at how they are going to get to the same destination, i.e. improved performance, raised attainment, higher achievement, better teaching and learning and so on, and think they can lift exactly what others have done and drop it into their own establishments and situations. I don't think you can do this, because every school's starting position is different. This is one of the big dangers of the 'sharing good practice' mantra that we are always being extolled to follow and improve. Yes, we do need to share practice and solutions that have worked, but these should come with impor…