Greetings from Sydney!!


I was delighted to receive a comment from Vince Campbell a school principal from Sydney, Australia. As readers of this blog may be aware I’m an avid follower of the curricular developments taking place in that country so it was particularly gratifying to think that we might have something to offer our colleagues in Oz. 

Greetings from Sydney, Don. I have been following your learning log for some time now with a great deal of interest and it is proving a great source of learning for me. I also read many of the blogs on your blogroll – some great work going on in East Lothian.

It’s this type of contact that reinforces the power of the web by enabling people to come together to share practice and experiences. I look forward to following Vince’s progress and learning more about education in his country.

Getting the mats out?


The Dragon’s Den experience on Saturday has set me thinking about how we develop people’s leadership skills.

I was concerned on Saturday that we might have gone over the top with the antagonistic nature of the exercise. However, I’ve since heard from a large number of people that they really enjoyed the experience – both participants and observers.

As a PE teacher I would often set up learning experiences where people could try out very complex tasks in a safe environment.  An example might be how you go about teaching a handspring over a box. Perhaps because I wasn’t a very good gymnast and my own fear for personal safety was paramount I never really mastered such skills. So when I started teaching I made sure I built things up gradually but also used every sort of padding, matting and protection available.

The consequence of this was that pupils would be prepared to try something they wouldn’t really have a go at otherwise.

So how does this link back to the development of leadership skills? Well – I wonder if some of our leadership development doesn’t properly prepare people for the very difficult work wer have to do -i.e.  is our learning environment so “warm and fuzzy” that learners don’t develop the skills that they will require in their future work?

It struck me that there might be something to be gained for putting prospective leaders into very demanding situations – but which are controlled environments – where people can try out and develop their skills in the knowledge that if things go wrong that there’s plenty of ‘padding’ around to break their fall. 

Exc-el Parental Roadshow


We held an Exc-el Open Group meeting this evening.

We discussed the permission forms which parents will be asked to sign to enable their children to participate and have their images displayed on school websites.

Christine – AKA guineapigmum – suggested that it would be good to speak to school boards about blogging/use of images/learning through the web.  The idea quickly developed into a Parental Roadshow which we intend to offer to each cluster group in the summer term. 

We thought me might be able to link this with the associated developments surrounding the Parental Involvement Bill

The evening might look something like this:

  • start with a presentation by teachers, parents and children relating to how they use the web.
  • Followed by a “come and try” session.
  • Rounded off by an opportunity for questions and answers

This might prove to be a popular event and enable schools to draw more parents into involvement whilst also reinforcing  cluster identity.

Who wants to go first?

“Transition” or “Flow”

A thought popped into my head during the PT conference when one of the groups was talking about transition from primary to secondary school.  They were reinforcing that it needs to be much more than just making it a smooth transfer for children from one thing to another – but that primary and secondary education should be seen as one continuous process.

Then it struck me – the word we use actually reinforces the notion of change -of something different.

The definition of “transition” is:  

1. Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another.


a. Passage from one subject to another in discourse.

b. A word, phrase, sentence, or series of sentences connecting one part of a discourse to another.

3. Music

a. A modulation, especially a brief one.

b. A passage connecting two themes or sections.

4. Genetics A point mutation in which a pyrimidine is replaced by another pyrimidine, or a purine is replaced by another purine.

5. Sports The process of changing from defense to offense or offense to defense, as in basketball or hockey.

6. A period during childbirth that precedes the expulsive phase of labor, characterized by strong uterine contractions and nearly complete cervical dilation.

intr.v. tran·si·tioned, tran·si·tion·ing, tran·si·tions

1. To make a transition.

2. Sports To change from defense to offense or offense to defense.

Perhaps we need to find another word.  I suggested “flow”:

The definition of flow is: 


a. To move or run smoothly with unbroken continuity, as in the manner characteristic of a fluid.

b. To issue in a stream; pour forth: Sap flowed from the gash in the tree.

2. To circulate, as the blood in the body.

3. To move with a continual shifting of the component particles: wheat flowing into the bin; traffic flowing through the tunnel.

4. To proceed steadily and easily: The preparations flowed smoothly.

5. To exhibit a smooth or graceful continuity: The poem’s cadence flowed gracefully.

6. To hang loosely and gracefully: The cape flowed from his shoulders.

7. To rise. Used of the tide.

8. To arise; derive: Many conclusions flow from this hypothesis.


a. To abound or teem: coffers flowing with treasure.

b. To stream copiously; flood: Contributions flowed in from all parts of the country.

Does it make a differnce?  Is there better word?

Curriculum for Excellence – personalisation and co-creation

Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Curriculum for Excellence Pic41860

The above sheets capture some of the ideas the East Lothian Principal Teachers came up with at their recent conference to personalise and co-create the curriculum.

Our next step is to convene a representative groups of PTs from each cluster/community to explore how we might build these ideas into our Curriculum for Excellence strategy for East Lothian.

Principal Teacher Conference – some reflections


So the PT Conference is over.  How did it go?

The feedback from the 76 participants has been incredibly positive – both the formal evaluations and the verbal comments – but did it meet our objectives?

There were three key objectives of the conference:

  1. promote the concept of Principal Teachers  as leaders of learning;
  2. create, promote and extend a community of principal teachers;
  3. develop and explore a range of ideas for developing the curriculum for excellence.

I’ll post the ideas which emerged from the conference here tomorrow but I think we made significant progress towards fulfilling our objectives.

The focus on Appreciative Inquiry proved worthwhile and provided a foundation for the 24 hour programme.

People seemed to get something from my presentation on culture; accountability; seven sides of leadership; and Leading from the middle, which linked with Alison Wishart’s stimulating session on possibilities for approaching the Curriculum for Excellence.

The Engine Rooms were dynamic and although some people thought it might have been better to stay in clusters I think we just about got the balance right.

The ideas which emerged at the end of the Engine Room were better than any working group could have achieved even working over a six month period.

The last session which culminated in the Dragon’s Den seemed to be good fun and the practical ideas which cluster teams suggested were exciting and very relevant.

As for the Dragon’s Den – I’m not sure – people seemed to enjoy it but we had one comment which made me think it might have gone too far – basically the person was concerned that such an antagonistic environment did not live up to our aspirations to treat people with unconditional positive regard.  It will be interesting to hear other peoples reflections on this aspect of the programme.

Of course, the best part of the course – bar none, was the opportunity to meet colleagues and who share a real passion for their jobs – we are indeed fortunate to have such people in East Lothian.

PT Conference: entering the Dragon’s Den


We hold our Principal Teacher Conference this weekend – the theme is “Principal Teachers: Leaders of Learning”

The Saturday is going to focus upon two key ares in relation to A Curriculum for Excellence, these being “personalisation” of the curriculum and “co-creation” of the curriculum.

We intend to split the delegates into two groups who will consider use the engine room approach to identify 5 things they would do to develop “personalisation” of the curriculum and “co-creation” of the curriculum. In addition to 5 ideas people will be asked to identify 2 potential barriers in relation to each aspect.

As each of the groups move through the engine room process we will gradually narrow and refine the ideas and barriers.

Having completed this task people will be asked to get into groups of their own choice and select one of the ideas which have been identified from the engine room. Their task will be to flesh out an action plan which would allow them to translate the idea into practice. The groups will use our development plan five questions, which are: what are you going to do?; why are you going to do it?; how are you going to do it?; when are you going to do it?; and , what differnce will it make to for learners?

All these action plans in relation to personalisation and co-creation will be captured on laptops and digitally saved for future reference and distribution.

The last session will involve one member of each group/team presenting a two minute pitch to our “dragons” who will act as management, colleagues, those they line manage, parents and pupils – basically they will pull the plans to pieces! The pitch will be followed by two minutes of ‘grilling’. At the end of all of the pitches to the ‘dragons’ a winner will be announced (prize to be a bottle of champagne)

The point of this exercise is that it will share with everyone present many strategies which leaders of learning will need to develop and apply in order to translate A Curriculum for Excellence from theory into reality – it should also be great fun!!

 I’m really looking forward to the conference and hope that everybody gets something out of the event.

Safe and outstanding practice


I’ve had a query from a teacher about the use of the web for educational purposes and the use of photographs including children.

Here’s what LTS have to say on creating and maintaining a school web site:

How safe is your website?
When creating a website the school is responsible for the care and the safety of every child. They must make sure that no child can be identified or contacted through the school website or as a result of someone visiting it. There should be no personal details such as names, e-mail addresses or telephone numbers. Try to put up photos of groups of children rather than an individual and don’t put their name beside it. You must get permission to use pupils’ photos or work, or to have their input on the website.

From this, we conclude that the main issue is that children must not be *identifiable*. The people who thought faces were unacceptable, We think, maybe made a wrong assumption about what this meant. It’s not the same as *recognisable*. As long as individuals aren’t identified, there’s no reason why faces of groups shouldn’t appear if parents accept it.
There may, of course, be cases where recognition is a risk – say if a family is in hiding. That’s a separate, and unusual, issue addressed by parental permission forms.

Today we’ve also checked what the “world’s largest internet safety organisation”, have to say on the subject. Their advice on use of children’s photos on web sites is here:

“So I recommend that a school use photos of children only after they get the parents’ consent, & only in groups of five or more. I also recommend that they not identify the children by name, only by the group: “Ms. Smith’s fourth grade class” or the “Volleyball Club,” for instance. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. We’d never let anyone post our child’s photo on a highway billboard, would we? We need to think of the Internet as a giant billboard posted on the largest superhighway in the world. If we wouldn’t allow something about our children to appear there, we shouldn’t allow it to be posted online.”

Bottom line is, they think the same as LTS.

In education, we have a duty to balance risks against educational benefits, just like we do when we take our children on the roads. In this case there is good evidence that publishing photos on the web has educational benefits, such as improving engagement, encouraging parental/family involvement, and improving school/community links.

We also have a duty to help children develop their own internet safety knowledge, by learning how to manage those risks. At primaries in particular, there’s an opportunity to teach these skills at an early stage, before they start using MySpace, Bebo etc. This is an increasingly important life skill.

An excellent example of a school web site can be found at the Pencaitland Primary School site. It is an outstanding model of the kind of practice LTS and are recommending and the staff at the school are to be congratulated for such leading edge and responsible practice.

Thanks to David Gilmour for helping with this post. We are working on detailed guidelines for schools.

How do we avoid teacher burnout?

How can some teachers work in the same school for forty years and leave the job as enthused as they were on their first day, whilst others in the same situation feel completely burntout and exhausted?

The signs of burnout tend to be more mental than physical. They can include feelings of:

  • Frustration and powerlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Being drained of emotional energy
  • Detachment, withdrawal, isolation
  • Being trapped
  • Having failed at what you’re doing
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Cynicism (people act out of selfishness and nothing can be done about it)

I recently came acros a couple of interesting articles  Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention and Understanding and Preventing Teacher Burnout.

I believe we all have a duty to be more aware of this debilitating emotional and physical state.

Over the next few weeks I’ll return to this theme with a view to exploring possible solutions.