Honesty and Leadership – Part 1

I bumped into someone this week who used to work with Professor Tim Brighouse.

Tim Brighouse has been a major influence upon how I attempt to go about my own work – so it was great to meet someone (a service Director in Birmingham City Council) who worked very closely with the man himself.

I asked the person what made Tim Brighouse special – the answer – he said – was easy – “honesty”.

“Tim never avoided the truth” – even if that truth was very uncomfortable. 

On reflection I think I sometimes avoid the truth – particularly when attempting to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. The problem with this strategy is that it’s more than likely that you will have to return to that truth at a later date – but are compromised by the fact that you didn’t tackle the matter at the outset.

In the next year I’m going to try to “never avoid the truth” – I wonder how things will go?? 


A week since my last post. It’s just that time of year.

Appointment panels, report writing, presentation preparation, e-mails, Integrated Children’s Services Plan and meetings — lots of meetings.

We held our last Head Teachers’ conference of the year today and it proved to be well received – although I think we pushed it a bit in the afternoon by having too many direct input sessions.

The highlights of the day were Alan Ross’s presentation of GIRFEC; discussion about our emerging leadership strategy; Ronnie Summers’ session on edubuzz and the role of HTS; a presentation from PTs Pauline Inglis and Kathy McGrane on PTs as Leaders of Learning; and a discussion on the implementation strategy for learning and teaching.

The evolving aspiration to achieve excellence in learning and teaching; leadership; and self-evaluation help to provide a real foundation upon which we can build the future of education in East Lothian.

Leadership Strategy?


It was just an innocent question but it triggered a fascinating and very productive discussion this morning.

The questioner had been Dee Torrance who had invited me to speak to the most recent cohort of SQH candidates at Peebles Hydro Hotel.  As well enjoyed a cup of coffee after the session she popped the question:

“So what is your leadership strategy?”

I don’t think anyone in East Lothian would have asked that question such has been the focus on leadership development. But as I attempted to answer her question it occurred to me that all I was talking about were the opportunities which we now offer to our leaders and prospective leaders.  What came out was a list: HT conferences; PT conferences; Depute conferences; leadership seminars; coaching; mentoring; core CPD; exchange programme; SQH, etc, etc.

Dee’s question popped into my mind this morning when I met with some colleagues 3 HTs – Patrica McCall, Dorothy Bartholomew and Freda Ross, Maureen Jobson (Quality Improvement Manager, Learning and Teaching), and Kirsty McRae (Staff Development C-ordinator). The purpose of our meeting was to consider the idea of core CPD for HTs and our HT conference programme for next year.

As we started the discussion we fell into the same trap that I had fallen into at Peebles -i.e.  listing activities.

By repeating Dee’s question we started to give some form and purpose to the potentially diverse list of activities.

What emerged was as follows:

East Lothian Education Leadership Strategy (draft)

Our Leadership strategy provides a context for the range of development opportunities we provide for leaders at all levels within the East Lothian education service.

Leadership development activities can fall into one of four inter-related categories:

    1. Management
    2. Learning and Teaching
    3. People and culture
    4. Nurture and well-being

Management – this category has a strong knowledge focus – where leaders are provided with the knowledge necessary to fulfil many of the other aspects of their job.

Examples would include – Finance procedures and systems; IT; Personnel policies and procedures; “Getting things Done”

By having a depth of knowledge and competence in these areas leaders develop confidence that their practice enables them to comply with regulation and demands of the job which often carry a significant stress burden.

There is a need for all HTs to regularly update their skills and knowledge in relation to these areas. It is our intention to offer a programme of seminars in the course of each academic year. HTs will be expected to attend two of these sessions in any one year.

Learning and Teaching – this category will include all development activities which relate to the improving the learning and teaching process.

People and culture – this category will underpin many of the leadership development activities within  the other categories although we may offer particular activities which directly relate to the leadership culture to which we aspire in the East Lothian education service.

Nurture and well-being- this category includes all those activities which enable us to nurture and promote the personal well-being of our leaders. Examples would include coaching, mentoring and health at work.

Leadership Training Delivery – As a rule of thumb we reckon that we should make best use of our existing leaders within East Lothian to ensure that we share good practice, capture wisdom, raise self-esteem by asking them to lead 80% of sessions. In order to prevent our service from becoming too insular approximately 20% of Leadership development sessions should be led by people external to East Lothian.

This is obviously work in progress but I reckon we can flesh this out over the next few weeks into  something which will give our Leadership programme some real bite.

Communication Strategy


I met with Jane Ogden-Smith this morning to discuss our Communication Strategy – or should that read lack of one.

Jane has recently taken over corporate responsibility for communication for Education and Children’s Services.  Jane has been working in a similar capacity for Children’s Services for a number of years and they have certainly benefited from her input.

In the last couple of years we have placed a significant emphasis upon improving internal communication within the departmant and with schools but that is only one side of the circle. Jane is going to help us to develop our external communication with parents and local communities about our services, how they can access them, what they think of our service and how they can contribute to their development.

One of the key areas for development is the East Lothian Council website where our current presence is dated and very much less than user friendly.  We also discussed how edubuzz can contribute to that strategy and to that end Jane is going to have a go at keeping her own blog.

Jane is willing to help any school develop similar strategies or to promote stories which would be of wider interest.

Extreme Learning – claims for competence

 Our Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) met yesterday for the second session on Learning and Teaching.  As I explained earlier this week we focussed upon Extreme Learning and experimented with the process and explored possible assessment models.

Reading the feedback it would appear that responses to the session are something of a curate’s egg – some people loved it and others felt confused and possibly exploited.

What did we do?

I introduced the session by reminding them of the purpose and rationale behind Extreme Learning. I then suggested that in they would hopefully gain something which they might employ in their own teaching – and not necessarily through using Extreme Learning.

It was a fine line to tread between giving the groups too much direction – which would result in uniformity of response – and enough direction so that they were clear about what they had to do.  The truth is – as I explained – that this was an experiment – where we were the participant researchers.

Each group (4/5 people) – which was cross sectoral – and had an observer who acted as the ‘metacognition’ for the group – was to select a research question and then provide an outline of how they would tackle this task if it were an Extreme Learning Project.  The groups had flip charts, pens and bluetack but no accesss to computers or any other resources.

In the introduction I explained how the four capacities would act a framework for the process – “we need to “do” some of these things in the course of our project”.  I also reinforced the point about Intellectual Challenge and the need for depth and breadth within their project. The teams had 90 minutes to complete the task before they posted their work on the walls.  I told the group we would be looking at assessment at the end of the 90 minutes but that assessment would focus upon the four capacities and the intellectual challenge.


How did we do?

It was apparent that they actually needed much more guidance than I had given about the way in which to construct a good research question.

The groups also needed more guidance about the assessment fromat – which we couldn’t do as it was to emerge as part of the process.

Some groups selected questions which were about education – such as transition from primary to secondary – this confused the issue as they were looking at how they could develop the four capacities as part of transition, yet the purpose of the project was to develop the four capacities in the writer of the project (through through the project process) – if you can follow that?

We proved that this paper-based approach towards starting an Extreme Learning Project can work – it is not dependent upon access to technology.

It was fascinating to see how the afternoon group did in  comparison to the morning groups – simply down to the fact that there were models on the wall which gave them an insight in to the task- the morning group were working blind.



How did we assess?

At the end of the 90 minutes the groups were asked to go round the room and reflect upon the other projects.

Using reference to the four capacities and intellectual challenge – they were asked to rank their own performance in relation to their peers (not to rank their peers), for example – “we ranked ourselves 3rd out of 9”.

They were also asked to identify three things they might do next time to improve their project.


What did we learn?

People who are going to try Extreme Learning projects would benefit from doing some sort of paper-based group exercise in the first instance.

There must be clear guidance – preferably with modelling – of what a ‘good’ research question looks like; how the project is to be assessed – they can’t go in blind which is what the NQTs really did.

Having access to exemplars – such as those around the walls – is of enromous benefit to the learning process – the on-line access of projects would facilitate this.

It emerged – particularly in the afternoon session that there might be an parallel between what NQTs have to do to gain ‘full registration with Genaral Teaching Council, Scotland, and assessing the four capacities.  The idea of “claims for competence” is a powerful one.

In other words, lets say I do a project – and I know that something I’m doing in the course of the project – let’s say intervewing old people at an old people’s home – links with being a confident individual and successful learner – I can make a “claim for competence” in that area.  My project provides the evidence partiucularl;y if my claim can be validated by peers and otheres (teachers, adults).

Intellectual Challenge was weell accepted by the group and it became apparent that many of the projects did not facilitate ‘depth’ in any way until it a suggested that this might be an isssue.  It was at this point that some groups said “well we could dig down into this particular aspect” – and that would appear to be the answer – depth does not need to be uniform within a project – but can be a specific focus within a broad peice of work.

“But what about plagiarism?” – I didn’t think this would be an issue oi we could focus upon the importance of the projects being about developing skills and knowledge and not the summative result.  If we can highlight that the only person to suffer by copying huge tracts of texts from other sources is the person doing the project then we would have made real progress.  Similarly the project which gets “done” by the parent would be thing of the past – however a child and parent could work together in a productive way but with the focus being on developing the four capacities of the learner.

Having access to on-line “real’ projects has enormous potential in providing a real Zone of Proximal Development which would engage and encourage learners to raise their ambitions and aspirations for their own work


The secondary school curriculm was highlighted as being too full to do anything like this.

“What about exam results- we can’t take risks like this” – what have we got to lose?- was my response.  The evidence from the recent cross-sectoral shadowing make disturbing reading – with both primary and secondary NQTs being amazed at the general levels of disengagement of secondary pupils in comarison to their younger peers – and that disengagement being directly related to what children are being asked to do in class and the structure of the curriculum.

“So many secondary teachers see Cuirriculum for Excellence to be another thing they have to add on to the curriculum as opposed to being enbedded within their practice” – perhaps the “claim for competence” approach has some merit here? – for example – if I’m teaching a lesson and I know that it will make certain demands oin the childernw chin  relate to the four capcities then I just need to be aware of this and don’t need to change anything. However, there may be other capacities which I never develop in my classroom because I don’t provide these sorts of opportunities through my teaching – the answer lies not in changing the curriculum but in how I structure the learnig process!!

“What about lack of access to ICT?” – we showed during the session that ICT is not necessary – ICT is only 5% of extreme Learning yet it holds the key to the ZPD, modelling and portfolio concepts. Most of the work can be done at home to follow up on the planning and dialogue which can take place at home. We need to explore how we support those few children who don’t have ICT assess at home.

“Would all the curriculum be delivered this way?” absolutely not – we must have a focus upon Disciplinary learning in our schools as well as process but some of the lessons for teachers in implementing Extreme Learning will undoubtedly lead to  changes in the way that even disciplinary learning takes place.

In understand the frustration of some of the NQTs who came along to the session expecting to be given something in terms of new information. Perhaps that’s the reality of Extreme Learning – it changes the relationship between teacher and learner in a fundamental way.

I am indebted to the positive way in which everyone engaged with the task on Thursday – I can only apologise if you felt exploited – that was certainly not our intention.


Extreme Learning – another step?


Apologies if this post seems a bit disconnected – I’ll try to tidy it up later.

On Thursday we’re holding the last of our Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) support programme.

This will be a follow up to the session I led in October.

My plan is to focus upon Extreme Learning by splitting up the group into teams of 5/6.  Each team will be asked to complete an Extreme Learning project in 75 minutes.  One of the team will act as an observer – taking the role of “metacognition” by taking notes on the process , the problems they encounter and how they solved them.

Following completion we are going to try something which might be an assessment method with some potential.

I would contend that all summative assessment is “norm referenced” in that even “criterion referenced” assessment takes account of  the standards of the larger group – i.e. if the overall standards of the large group improve the criteria used to describe high standards performance will change – e.g. if 90% of pupils started to gain an ‘A’ in Higher English the criteria for an ‘A’ pass would change.

In other words we rely on comparison to understand and measure our performance – we do it all the time in our day-to-day lives without recourse to criteria descriptors.

Our idea is that the way to judge Extreme Learning success is to reflect upon other projects.  David Gilmour came up with an interesting example – he was in an adult art class where the teacher would regularly tell the class to take a break and go round the class and look at other people’s work. In this way people began to see standards and reflect upon how they can improve their own work.

The problem with most forms of assessment is that it’s private – how do I ever see what gets an ‘A” unless the teacher copies a paper – but that’s just one version of success – perhaps there other ways to perform at a high level.

I was looking today at the very interesting assessment maps provided by the Victorian Essential Learning Standards which have influenced the levels of performance in A Curriculum for Excellence – but boy are they dull!!!

The question which I was left with was is there any alternative? – particularly for our Extreme Learning Projects which will depend upon formative assessment – but still need some means of establishing standards for learners to aspire and judge their progress and next steps.

The beauty of on-line projects is that they are public – it’s this open access to other learners’ work that gives us an opportunity to explore a different methodology.

So what is we could identify different projects with various levels of performance which is self-assessed but externally validated by other learners and teachers.

Let’s imagine I’m a learner who wants to do a project on Formula One cars and I explore this through the research question – “Why is one F1 racing car faster than another?”  I complete my on-line project with reference to maths, technology, design and history. When it comes to assessing my project I start to look for other projects which have also covered these areas – although perhaps not all in the same project.  In this way I can begin to see levels of performance which are lower than mine, the same and perhaps higher.

Using these other projects as benchmarks I make some judgement about my own work then seek external vaildation for my judgment -with a strong focus upon my next steps.

It’s at this point that I will refer back to something that Bob Lingard said on Saturday – when he mentioned that all too often teachers don’t provide anough challenge or extend learners enough – he mentioned how outstanding teachers provide, what Vygotsky called the  Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). But what if learners had access to others’ work – in much the same way as they havce acces to their friends Bebo or MySpace sites – which influences their own sites – would this provide that same ZPD??

Last point – Lindsay Paterson wrote in last week’s TESS about the need to remember the value of discplinary work – I have to agree – but Extreme learning will give learners the chance to deepen their knowledge and understanding of disciplines in addition to being multi-disciplinary. Why don’t we set the four capacities as one side of the learning circle – with a focus on the process, whilst intellectual challenge forms the other side?

Edubuzz Open Meeting


We held an Edubuzz Open meeting this afternoon.

We made some key decisions:

Make use of the Edubuzz blog as the front page to the site as opposed to the current page (which we would aspire to in the future) –  we felt the current front page did not enable people to easily understand the purpose and background to Edubuzz, nor did it allow for easy access to blogs of particular interest, nor enable them to set up their own blog with ease.

Promote the edubuzz platform to teachers through: more direct promotion to Head Teachers – Ronnie Summers will make a brief presentation at our next HT conference; and more direct delivery sessions, such as Teach Meet, in schools; develop the Extreme Learning format which requires access to the platform; encourage blogging by probationers and students.

Organise a Saturday conference in the Autumn, probably at Musselburgh Grammar School.

Encourage a support more parental blogs

See Tess Watson, Lynne Lewis, Ollie Bray , Stewart Meldrum and Dave Cain for further insights

Agile Software Developments


One of the delights of keeping a Learning Log are the comments and suggestions you receive from other people.

And so it was when Kenneth McLaughlin left a comment on one of my recent posts.

Kenneth pointed us in the direction of Agile Software Developments:

The modern definition of agile software development evolved in the mid 1990s as part of a reaction against “heavyweight” methods, as typified by a heavily regulated, regimented, micro-managed use of the waterfall model of development. The processes originating from this use of the waterfall model were seen as bureaucratic, slow, demeaning, and inconsistent with the ways that software engineers actually perform effective work.

I was fascinated to read about the Agile model of development as I think it corresponds, in many ways, to how we are trying to take things forward education in East Lothian.

Without access to the Learning Log such a link could never have been made and an opportunity of reflecting upon our practice would not have emerged. It’s this kind of lateral engagement with other fields of study and enterprise that can help education to break free from some of the more traditional development models which have so singularly failed to bring about productive change.