Public Service and zero tolerance?

We had a meeting today where we talked about incidents where parents verbally abuse by shouting, swearing and threatening teaching staff – headteachers included.  Fortunately such incidents are rare but when it does happen – I’ve had my share in my time – it’s very distressing and threatening (and I’m big and ugly).

I can understand why it sometimes occurs – parents are upset; stressed; they may feel their child is not being treated properly; they may have strong negative emotions from their own days at school – but are these reasonable excuses? Such incidents can happen to any headteacher – regardless of experience or skills – so what should we do?

We certainly don’t want to get to the point where we put things in place which prevent normal communication between schools and the majority of parents. However, many services such as transport and health now make it very clear that they will not tolerate such abuse from service users and have taken steps to actively tackle the problem. 

A key element of many strategies is appropriate training for all staff and that would link with some of the descalation work we are currently involved.  I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think that we want parents kept out of schools – in fact quite the reverse. How would parents feel if such information about this topic went out in school newsletters? 

Against the flow

I received an e-mail on Friday from Liz Herd (one of my colleagues)  who has recently been in Dublin.  She came across the work of Anna Nielsen and thought I might like the combination of words and drawings. 

She was right!  I’ve spent a couple of hours this weekend going through the work – amazing!!  Anna has kindly given me permission to use the above print.

Is educational leadership different from leadership in other fields?

John Connell has made some very kind comments about the Seven Sides of Educational Leadership model which I’m currently developing.


As ever John has that uncanny ability to cut to straight to the ‘heart’ of an issue. So much so that I’ve actually ‘stolen’  some of his words for the introduction to the site.

The point is that I took it for granted that people would accept that educational leadership is different from leadership in other fields – yet it took John to make the point explicitly. 

Thank you

I received a wonderful comment this week from “A Parent with Standards”

“Your blog is a wonderful medium! How else can a parent gain access to those higher up in education. Had I sent a formal letter into the Education Department I would have got the normal unimaginative bog standard reply. Your reply was from one human to another.”

Does this make it all worthwhile? – you betcha!!

Aspirations – might be scary?

During one of our meetings today we explored our aspirations for education in East Lothian.

The challenge was – if there were three things we would like to be excellent at in education in East lothian what would they be?

The answer? learning and teaching; self-evaluation; and leadership.  Arguably, if we got these three things operating at an excellent level then everything else would fall into place.

However, it was pointed out to me that such aspirations might actually scare people – “Are you saying that ‘very good’ isn’t good enough?”  I don’t think I was but what we’re keen to do is to lift the lid off our aspirations and really extend our current practice.  Hopefully it won’t be too scary along the way.

Implementation Strategy – a eureka moment

We had two key meetings today where the implementation strategy we are developing in the authority became more explicit.

By implementation strategy I mean the way in which we move initiatives and developments forward within the authority.

For example, if we consider three different initiatives such as A Curriculum for Excellence; Leadership Development; and Learning and Teaching.

The Implementation Strategy for each of these has some fundamantally common features:

  1. Recognise and take account of the different contexts in which we work;
  2. Seek to embed within existing practice as opposed to “bolting on”
  3. Promote shared responsibility for implementation – try to avoid a ‘central/authority’ person to whom is given the responsibility for implementation.
  4. Make best use of existing expertise at all times unless absolutely necessary
  5. Promote organic and long-term development over short-term unsustainable development
  6. Always attempt to build upon existing good practice and reaffirm the connections between new and existing practice
  7. Always focus upon meeting the needs of children – what difference will this make?
  8. Find ways of measuring and judging the impact.
  9. Continually reinforce links between other developments and areas of practice.
  10. Build teams to develop and share practice.
  11. Link theory to “nuts and bolts” i.e. reinforce the practical applications and impact.

No longer a “blog”

I’m going to stop keeping a “blog” and start a keeping learning log (see title bar). I’ll also stop using “blogging” software and use “exchange” software.

It was interesting to see the synonyms which the computer came up with for “communicate”. If you’ve got “Word for Windows” try it out and then check the strapline for this log.

“I’ll never read Don’s Blog”

I was speaking to someone today who had spoken to a colleague who had declared that they had never read my blog and certainly had no intention of doing so.

It’s interesting the response that some people are having to the blogging phenomenon. I think a key factor which is influencing some people is that blogging is seen as being connected with ego. I also think this particular response is connected in some way to how people respond to “management”.

I have four thoughts in response:

1. My blog is having a major influence upon what I do and think (particularly the comments I receive).

2. It provides one window on education from my point of view – in that way it’s no more – or no less important – than any other person who keeps a blog on Exc-el, but what it’s what they do collectively in shaping and providing a balanced perspective on the process of education that makes it such a powerful medium.

3. Don’t read  blogs it if you don’t want to – it will never become compulsory

4. We will communicate in other ways with people and will continue to do so. 

However, I still think that we must be aware that the term “blog” has the potential to be an obstacle and perhaps we should be exploring alternative names…………? If the word only serves to exclude – rather than include – then it becomes serious handicap.

Leadership and Management

Following our meeting this afternoon with AHDS I had a thought about the relationship between leadership and management. 

The current emphasis is – quite rightly – upon leadership. However, it is apparent that some headteacher’s ability to lead is severely compromised by workload issues that might be reduced by the development of systems which would enable them to tackle the more mundane management tasks.

One of the suggestions which caught my imagination was the need to remove the stigma which prevents people from admitting that they have problems managing admin’ tasks. This leads them to try to keep their head’s (excuse the pun) above water when they are in danger of going under.

If we really want to help our leaders to develop we need to develop the skills and systems which will enable them to manage their workload – and not just leave them to get on with it.

Headteacher Workload

We met representatives from the “Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland” this afternoon to consider issues relating to Headteacher workload.

We identified a number of things that we might look at to reduce workload and stress.

These included:

1. Trying to avoid certain times of years for additional requests for information which clash with times whenthe school is already very busy e.g. December, June.

2. Managing paperwork is a major stress point for Headteachers – the point was made that some HTs are very good at this whilst others have never developed systems or procedures to prevent them from being overwhelmed.

3. Linked to Number 2 is the cumulative impact of the above on well-being.

4. Provision of accurate and timeous financial information.

5. Volume of paperwork relating to personnel issues such as recruitment.

6. Accessing information – this links with Number 2 as people admitted that they sometimes mislay info’ which has been sent to the school but there is no easy way to retrieve said info’.

7. Behaviour Management – how do we develop consistent classroom management strategies to prevent escalation of problems which necessitate direct management involvement.

8. Additional Support for Learning paparework and moderation process.

If these were the problems then it was gratifying that the HTs were able to point to a number of things that we have introduced this year which have reduced stress, such as our new School Development planning process; the new absence management procedures; the cluster approach; the school evaluation process; and the suggested dynamic and on-line Standards and Quality format.

We will meet again in six weeks time to consider some solutions which we will come up with in the intervening period.