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Showing posts from 2017

School leadership: stop shooting ourselves in the foot!

Let me say at the start of this post that I was a school leader for over 18 years and I loved almost every minute of it. School leadership was challenging, intellectually, emotionally and physically at times, but that was always a part of the allure for me. I entered teaching wanting to make a difference. I became a school leader to be able to make more of a difference, for more learners and families. I am not alone in this view and I have met, and worked with, many colleagues who feel exactly the way I do, about their role, the challenges and the opportunities it presents.

Yet, we have a problem in Scotland, and elsewhere, in that we are struggling to get people to apply for school leadership positions, especially headteacher ones. Why? is a question many of us within the system, and our employers, have been asking for some time now. When school leadership roles become available, there is often a dearth of suitable applicants.The answers people have come up with point to the nature o…

Scottish education governance announcement

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would…

Professional development that goes beyond compliance

I have not been posting much recently, as I am concentrating on the book I am currently writing about practitioner enquiry. However, I am still keeping an eye on things via Twitter, and through one or two groups and organisations I am working with. Last week I was considering professional learning as part of my own writing, but also because of a group I am working with was considering Professional Standards in Scotland, and a Twitter chat I took part in about teacher engagement with research. When these were combined with latest pronouncements from Scottish Government and Education Scotland, I thought I needed to post something before another 'initiative' built up too much of a head of steam or momentum with little comment.

Some of the most respected names in educational research have had their say about what the best professional learning looks like in education.

Helen Timperley has said, ' It is no longer acceptable for professionals in schools to do their individual bes…

Twitter for professional development in education

Having been an active user of Twitter for some time now, I have come to see the power of this platform to aid my professional development and grow my thinking. Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and many others, have demonstrated the power, and necessity,  of 'focused collaboration' to school and professional development. Twitter is another way that educators can extend that collaboration beyond the daily physical limitations of where they work and live, and the colleagues they meet, and work with, face to face. That is not to say it is without its faults and issues, just as there will be issues in your day to day interactions with the people you collaborate or work with. But, for me, the advantages of adding another layer of collaboration through Twitter, far outweigh the disadvantages. As with any actions or interactions you need to engage critically, reflectively and thoughtfully. I am seeing more and more new colleagues dipping their toes in the waters of Twitter, and it is t…

Professional development to produce the self-improving system

If you are a teacher, school leader or system leader, what does effective professional development look and feel like to you?

Our thoughts around professional development have certainly changed during my own time as a school leader. When I first became a school leader, and previously as a teacher, professional development consisted of a smorgasbord of training and activity that we dipped into as and when we pleased. Sometimes this was linked to school development, but often there was little or no such link. Basically, you picked something you fancied doing, then hoped your headteacher, or school, had enough Continuous Professional Development (CPD) funding to allow you to attend. If the answer was a positive one, off you went, with little if any demand for you to demonstrate the impact of your training, or to disseminate any insights gained amongst colleagues. This was professional development based on personal choice, and was characterised as being most often done toyou, rather than

All that glitters is not gold

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

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?

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…

Case for the defence

My last post was about some of the significant aspects of my role I feel guilty about, as I approach the end of my career in schools. This one has a more positive message, as I consider some of the aspects I feel most satisfied with from my career as a teacher and a school leader. As I indicated in the last post, 'Guilty M'lud', there have been many highlights and lots that I am proud of. Many of these are to do with particular children, parents, members of staff and colleagues, but this is about the big wins I feel I have experienced during my career.


From my last post, you will know I have made mistakes, some of which I feel more guilty about than others. What I will say is that I have tried to learn from all my mistakes, both as a teacher and as a school leader. I have always been willing to admit my mistakes to those most affected, and apologise when necessary. Of course, what I consider to be a mistake, may not be considered so by others, and vice versa. Mistakes tend…