A Teachers’ Oath?


I received an e-mail from Alan Coady this week telling me about how he’d listened to an interesting guest on Desert Island Discs this week – a doctor called Raymond Tallis. The line that made him  prick up his ears was “you don’t need many thoughts, just fundamental ones.”

Alan went on to reflect upon the similarities between the teaching and medical profession and asked why teacher’s don’t have something akin to the doctors’ hippocratic oath.

As I’ve mentioned before my own father was a GP and was driven by a deep commitment to serve the needs of his community.  When he died aged 69 – appropriately, for him, visiting a patient on a Sunday morning – I wrote a poem for his funeral.  The first three lines read:

Not many swear an oath and keep their word
But you held it through a lifetime
And stretched it to a way of life.

Having met teachers from across the world I believe there are a common set of values which underpin our behaviour.

An oath might be possible to create – and some already exist. However, words – whatever they might be – are easy to say – much more difficult to consistently live up to throughout our lives.

He knows his onions!!


Derek Haywood, our Business Manager, retired today.

I can’t begin to express how much I’m going to miss him. The retirement of a close colleague is a strange thing – one day a person is there – the next day they’re gone.  I’m pleased for Derek but it will leave a huge hole in our working lives.

Derek hopes to spend as much time as possible in his beloved France – hence the onions and beret.

One of the world’s good guys.

Rest-and Be-Thankful

 A83, Glen Croe, Rest & Be Thankful RLH.jpg

Rest & Be Thankful are the words which are located on a stone near the junction of the A83 and the B828, placed there by soldiers who built the original road in 1753. The original stone fell into ruin and was replaced by a commemorative stone at the same site.

I always think these are appropriate words to describe the end  of term for teachers.

Unless you’ve been a teacher yourself you can never fully appreciate how exhausting teaching actually is. 

Can I take this opportunity to thank all East Lothian teachers and support staff for the work they’ve undertaken for their children over the last term and I hope your break is restful. Well done for making it through to the end of term.

Extreme Learning Toolbox


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I spent an afternoon with David Gilmour exploring possible Extreme Learning templates.

It was interesting how we went about the task with some reference to my post yesterday about the Amundsen approach, i.e. we spent a lot of time considering at “what ifs?” and “how do we make it simple?” – this time was well spent as we made rapid progress thereafter.

What has proved useful is the time we’ve taken between playing around with some initial ideas and giving further consideration to the context of A Curriculum for Excellence.

The above sketch (David’s handy work) gives some indication of our direction of travel. If you can’t open the link by clicking on the sketch try it here – there are notes on the photo which you can access by moving the cursor over the photo.

We’ll be holding an open meeting in early May to give this fuirther shape and to set up some pilots for the coming session. If you need a reminder about the purpose/rationale of Extreme Learning check it out here.

Here is an outline – in linear form – of our emerging ideas.

  1. Learners will set up an exc-el blog as in the normal way – this will allow them to really personalise their own site.
  2. We will populate an Extreme Learning Toolbox which learners can use for guidance and to cut and paste infromation to their own site.
  3. On the toolbox we will place a screenshot movie with documentary by learners to talk their peers through the process.
  4. Learners will select a theme for their Extreme Learning Project
  5. The learner will select four learning windows/building blocks/curricular areas with which to view/consider their theme.
  6. The learner will identify the level of performance they aspire to in each area (we will set out learning outcomes in each area for each of the four levels)
  7. The learner completes 3 “mash-ups” where they will consider the connections between 2 areas and the theme being considered.
  8. Learners can keep an on-going learning log to chart and record their progress.
  9. People will be able to comment on all work as it progresses.
  10. The final stage involves the learner reflecting upon their learning by considering the how their experience has contributed to the development of their four capacities and their level of performance in relation to the selected curricular areas.

Leadership – Antarctic style

 Scott's Expedition at the South Pole, January 18, 1912 L to R: Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans, Robert Scott, Lawrence Oates

Visiting schools and speaking to Head Teachers is one of the pleasures of my job.

This morning I met with Patricia McCall, HT Campie Primary School. Patricia gave me a great insight into her own perspective on leadership by referring to one of her great interests – Antarctic Exploration.

Her hero is Roald Amunden, the first person to reach the South Pole and in so doing beating Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

Perhaps this extract explains why:

The fact remains that Amundsen’s expedition benefited from good equipment, appropriate clothing, a fundamentally different appreciation of its primary task, an understanding of dogs and their handling, and the effective use of skis. He pioneered an entirely new route to the Pole and they returned. In Amundsen’s own words:

“I may say that this is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”
–from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen.

Whereas, Scott gloried in being the enthusiastic amateur, who went at the task in a gung ho and cavalier manner without proper regard for the safety of his men.

Patricia’s third Antarctic leadership figure was Ernest Shackelton, who, although in many ways similar to Scott, differed in that he was driven by a deep concern for his men and the desire to “get his people home”.

The three leadership types then are:

  1. Amundsen – professional; democratic; careful preparation; attention to detail; foreseeing difficulties; planning for eventualities.
  2. Scott – status conscious; dictatorial; unaware of differing abilities; ego driven; careless attitude towards his men; unwilling to engage in detailed planning. 
  3. Shackleton – Much in common with Scott but committed to looking after his men – regardless of any personal cost to himself.

 I enjoyed the lesson.

Extreme Learning Meeting

We’ve tried to contact all schools but if you were thinking about coming along to the Extreme Learning Meeting tomorrow- don’t – it’s been cancelled.

We’ve been working on a variety of templates but don’t yet have them complete.

I’ll write out to all involved with the new date which will be early in the new term. Apologies.

Setting and the need for differentiation?


I had an interesting conversation with a teacher today about there being little need to differentiate in classes which have been set (put into ability groupings for certain subjects e.g. maths, english)

Such an assertion must be based upon the premise that all pupils are placed (through accurate assessment) in the appropriate set and that the class – which might number 25-30 – are a homogenous group.

I’m interested in this point of view as I haven’t been able to come across any research which proves that setting is more effective than mixed ability classes. I have often heard the argument that setting makes the teaching process easier.  Maybe that’s because there’s no need to differentiate? Or is there?

How have you changed since you took up this job?

This one of the questions that fascinates me about the world of work – particularly when people take up leadership roles – although it can happen in any role or working environment.

I reckon if you ask most people who have taken up leadership positions in education whether or not they have changed as a consequence of the job they would say no.

However, I’m not sure if that is actually the case. I think the pressure to change is subtle, pervasive and almost impossible to resist. What is truly fascinating is why that change take place?

I’d hazard a guess that if you took any teacher in a school at random and put them in the position of Head Teacher that their behaviour, the behavour of others towards them would change and that this interaction would continue to shape the behavour of both the leader and the led – and not for the better.

The fault lies with perception – towards the leader by the teachers, and towards the teacher by the leader.

I think there’s tremendous potential to be had from exposing these perceptions to open dialogue so that neither group falls into what’s “expected” of them.

A good starting point is for leaders to constantly reflect upon the how their experiences – and the perceptions of others -are influencing them and to try to work out if it’s for better or worse.

Is there a place for training in education?

 Tiger Woods' swing analysedBBC

I managed to meet with John Connell on Friday – I think it was our fourth attempt. 

In the course of a wide ranging blether we considered the old notion of “teacher training”.  The focus nowadays is on teacher education – but does training have its place?

I went to a teacher training college (SSPE) – it had many drawbacks and at its worst was perhaps a mix between a public school and a military experience, yet it had many strengths -it  set out clear expectations, high standards and an unambiguous approach towards the teaching process.

Training is often synonomous with multiple repetitions – “practice makes perfect” – that’s certainly the definition in the sporting world. In its sporting context training puts people in situations where they “groove” a skill so that it can be performed automatically – even under pressure. 

The challenge in education is that this type of learning is about developing an unquestioning response to a certain stimulus. Do we want unthinking automatons in our classrooms? The obvious answer is of course not – but perhaps there are certain elements of our practice which might benefit from a “training” regime. I explored this recently in terms of providing safe yet challenging learning environments for prospective leaders.

I have a friend who reached Lieutenant Colonel in the army engineers. I used to enjoy hearing from him about the training  they used to enable soldiers to build structures under extreme pressure so that when faced with the ‘real thing’ the training kicked-in and enabled them to complete the job.

I suppose I’m left with two questions here:

is there a place for “training” in the education of children?; and

is there a place for “training” in the education of teachers and educational leaders?

I’d like to suggest that there is but that it must be used with caution, with explicit purpose, and openly communicated with those to whom are being “trained”.