Law Primary School – visit

I made my first formal school visit of the term this afternoon, when I observed four classes in Law Primary School , North Berwick

As I’ve explained in a previous post my focus this session will be on the ‘learning task’ set by the teacher.

Throughout my career I must have observed hundreds of lessons – three years as a University lecturer; ten years as a principal teacher; and eleven years in school senior management. But today felt like a very different experience – and one which I felt to be much more worthwhile. By focusing on a specific element of the teaching process my mind was cleared of any other factors which can distract  your attention during an observation – which can leave you at the end of the lesson with an “impression” of practice – as opposed to today where I felt I was able to really “drill” down into practice.

The teachers at Law have really grasped the importance of sharing their learning intentions with learners and then managed to link their intentions with a suitable and challenging task.   Yet it’s suprising how often teachers will identify an intention and then select a task which does not actually relate to that intention.

Over the coming session I hope to visit twelve classrooms a week – it will be my own little piece of Action Research which I will write up in this log and link under the School Visit category.

I feel privileged to have this opportunity – and hope that these visits will contribute in some small way to maintaining our focus upon the learning and teaching process in East Lothian.

SQA (self questioning anxiety)

Unless you’ve been there I don’t think it’s possible to imagine the anxiety which teachers, principal teachers and head teachers experience at the time Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) results are published.

I’ve been in there in all three roles and now in my wider role as Head of Education.

Over my 27 years in the business I’ve experienced a wide variety of highs and lows – but it’s impossible to describe the desolation of a year when children have significantly under-performed in comparison to what you expected.

Perhaps contrary to public opinion teachers always blame themselves when this happens and the low is even more pronounced when you feel you have been working flat out through the previous year.  Then there are the other years when attainment completely outstrips your expectations and for a short time everything is rosy – this feeling lasts about a week until the new cohort starts their course.

I’m busy analysing our East Lothian SQA data at the moment and was waiting for the national results to be published today in order to get a handle on how well we had performed in comparison with national figures and our comparator authorities.

The good news is that it looks like our Standard Grade and Higher attainment has improved in comparison to both national and comparator figures. However, it’s possible to take too much gratification from how you compare against others and lose sight of the overall attainment of individual pupils in East Lothian – which, in relation to attainment, must be our point of focus.

However, I’m convinced that the positive and collaborative culture we are developing; the focus on consistently high quality learning and teaching; our application of ICT; the support systems we have for pupils with additional learning needs; the improving links between our schools and sectors; the wide range of extra-curricular opportunities on offer; the support we get from parents; our staff development programme; and the commitment from everyone who works in East Lothian education will enable us to make almost exponential progress over the next few years. What’s more I think we can have fun doing it!

The John Muir Leadership Centre?

I met Bill Stephen and Ollie Bray on Friday to explore how we might build upon some of the experiences I had at the Project Adventure programme in the summer.

We started off exploring how we might use some of these ideas at one of our Head Teacher conferences in the coming session but quickly extended into considering how we could develop a facilitated leadership programme for a wide range of individuals – teachers, private sector leaders, local authority leaders and young people.

East Lothian is well placed geographically to offer leadership programmes which make use of our wonderful environment yet is close to a major city with relatively good transport connections.

Our emerging idea went as follows:

  1. Develop our leadership approach around the principles, personality and achievements of John Muir;
  2. Develop a series of programmes which would be acccessible to mixed groups, i.e. not just educationalists – cross fertilisaton would be a key feature of our approach;
  3. Make use of the outdoor environment of East Lothian;
  4. Train facilitators in a leadership philosophy which would permeate the programme;
  5. Support public sector engagement through commerical rates;
  6. Offer our programmes to a local, national and international clientele.
  7. Make use of public sector and private sector facilitators.

We are pulling together a management group to further develop these ideas but if you feel you could make a particular contribution to such a group just drop me a line.

As Alan Blackie (he joined us during our meeting) suggested our strap line, which might underpin the type of leadership approach we would seek to develop, should perhaps read “Leave no Footprints” – which was one of John Muir’s most famous sayings about people who visit the wilderness.

Exciting stuff!

Job Opportunity

I’m on the steering group of the Dynamic Earth/ Scottish Seabird Centre Outreach Programme

Krista McKinsey, the current schools communicator, has done a wonderful job but is leaving us in September to take up a job at Durham University.

At the steering group meeting on Friday we explored how we might go about replacing her.

One of the options we came up with was a four day a week secondment for an East Lothian Teacher for a six month period on the first instance but hopefully extending to 18 months.

This could form an important part of our Curriculum for Excellence Strategy – links with science and environment – and would also give the person some very worthwhile management experience – which would be in line with our Leadership Network Programme.

Information will be coming out to schools this week but for those who might be interested here’s a sneak preview of the job outline.


School Visits 2

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post I intend to make three school visits each week in the coming session.

The focus of my visits are: leadership; self-evaluation and learning tasks.

At our Quality Improvement Group meeting this afternoon I was asked what I was looking for in relation to the last of these points of focus.

So here goes:


What is the purpose of my classroom visits? – to focus our attention upon the  selection of challenging and appropriate learning tasks by teachers in the learning and teaching process.
Why is this important?  – where children are required to undertake challenging and appropriate learning tasks the quality of their learning is significantly enhanced.
During my visits I’ll be asking:
· teachers to describe the learning task that they have set the class for that lesson.
· teachers to describe how this lesson connects with previous lessons and future lessons.
· children to tell me about their involvement in the setting of learning tasks
· children to tell me what they are doing and what they need to do to be successful in relation to the task.
During my visits I’ll be looking at:
· the level of pupil engagement in the learning task – at all ability levels within the class.
· the quality of children’s work.
· the information provided to children about the task
· the information provided to children about what a successful performance would look like.
Who will I visit?
· I would like to visit classes at random – rather than being directed to specific teachers.  On my arrival in school I will discuss with the Head Teacher which classrooms it will be appropriate for me to visit.
How many classrooms will I visit during my time in school?

· At least two – I will remain in each class for at least 20 minutes.

What feedback will I provide?

· I will write to the Head Teacher with feedback about my visit.

What will I do at the end of the year?

· I will complete a report on visits to schools and reflect upon the issues and good practice that have observed over the course of the year.

Open Source Leadership

I’ve just finished reading and can recommend Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

The strapline for the book reads: “How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything”

How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

The dustcover describes the book as follows :

In the last few years, traditional collaboration—in a meeting room, a conference call, even a convention center—has been superceded by collaborations on an astronomical scale.

Today, encyclopedias, jetliners, operating systems, mutual funds, and many other items are being created by teams numbering in the thousands or even millions. While some leaders fear the heaving growth of these massive online communities, Wikinomics proves this fear is folly. Smart firms can harness collective capability and genius to spur innovation, growth, and success.

A brilliant primer on one of the most profound changes of our time, Wikinomics challenges our most deeply-rooted assumptions about business and will prove indispensable to anyone who wants to understand the key forces driving competitiveness in the twenty-first century.

During my time in the U.S the I was struck by the idea of Open Source Leadership – as a metaphor for a leadership approach where collaboration was the key factor in moving an organisation forwards.

Of course on returning home I googled “Open Source Leadership” – it came as no surprise that others have been here long before me. However, if I were to try to capture the type of approach which I think education needs to develop in the next few years then “Open Source Leadership”  – with a focus upon peer production and mass collaboration – would appear to have massive potential.

Post Script:

It’s nearly two years since Robert Jones first introduced me to the concept of Open Source – now here I am using it a metaphor for leadership in education.

Remember the zebras

Alan Coady recently dropped me a line to point me in the direction of Jonathan Rowson who had been to Harvard and studied the field of Mind, Brain and Education with a particular focus on enactive cognition.

It was while reading the link that I was taken by the title of Rowson’s book “Chess For Zebras: Thinking differently about black and white”.

The title is based upon a Sufi saying to encourage mindfulness of the dangers of natural assumptions:

“When you hear hoof beats, think of a zebra” (hoof beats = horses).

I think it might be a useful adage to keep in mind in education where all too often our thinking is petrified by embedded assumptions.

Times Educational Supplement Scotland

I’m going to be writing a monthly piece for TESS which will be published on the third Friday of every month.

I intend to use the opportunity to explore a range of issues in, what will hopefully be, a thought provoking manner. 

I’d welcome any suggestions for possible articles.

Loss of the Future

It was Roland Barth who asked us to think back to an incident in our life which had been our most intense learning experience.

That’s a really interesting question to ask anyone – if you don’t believe me try it for yourself.

What emerged for me was the moment when our first child was stillborn. Gill was two weeks overdue and the baby just stopped moving one Saturday morning. We went up to the hospital and it took nearly an hour for someone to confirm our worst fears. We were sent home and told to come back the next day where gill would be induced. Gill was in labour for 14 hours before giving birth to a beautiful baby boy who we named Stewart.

We went on to have two wonderful sons Douglas and Lewis but that experience was one which has had a major influence on our approach to life.

As I thought more about that experience I realised that the sense of “loss” which we experienced was to do with our future rather than our past.  We had plans, expectations and dreams which we hoped to fulfil with our son – when he was stillborn that loss of the future made our grief even more intense.

So what’s this got to do with learning? Well it struck me that what Norman Kunc called the “hurt of change” might just be connected to people’s fear of losing their future.  Leaders often complain about people’s unwillingness to change, to embrace new practices, to adopt a new culture. But what if that unwillingness was actually to do with the fact that they can see the future because it looks just like the present.  When a leader comes in who paints a picture of something out of sight then is it any wonder that they recoil, resist – or worse stiil – ignore.

Perhaps the leader might do well to recognise people’s fear of “losing their future” – and through such recognition develop approaches to change which took account of these feelings – as opposed to simply writing off anyone who offers resistance?