HTs Toolkit/manual and Extreme Learning

Two ideas crystallised today.

HTs Toolkit/Manual

As readers of the blog will be aware we are looking to offer
practical support to headteachers next year by providing guidance in "getting things done" (GTD) – a time management strategy which has been very well received by the primary/nursery executive. As second strand to our leadership development strategy has emerged over the last few days. Many headteachers get bogged down by two things in their daily business – managing their workload – which "GTD" might help resolve; and secondly the challenges they face on a day to basis when dealing with pupils, staff, parents or any combination of these. I was speaking to an HT yesterday who described how they were dealing with a particular problem with a parent. I thought the course of action they were taking was really interesting and would be worth sharing with other heads who faced similar circumstances. How would it be if you could reach into a manual, or toolkit, and find a range of actual soluctions which have been tried by HTs in response a similar problem? Being a headteacher can be a lonely position and we often do reach for the phone to ask for advice – that course of action could of course still be open – but the manual would be a easily accessible guide. I discussed the idea with Debbie Beveridge (HT Wallyford Primary) today during her ED&R and we both thought it had merit – particularly if we could use the existing expertise in the authority to develop the toolkit. I'm not suggesting that people would have to follow the guidance in the manual and that it would be more likely that a successful course of action would be an amalgamation of a person's own ideas and other people's – but at the very least it could prove to be a useful way of reflecting upon a variety of solutions which might not have been otherwise considered. We could set such a toolkit up on the web. I'll be exploring this with folk over the next few weeks.

Extreme Learning

I had a treally useful meeting this afternoon with Jackie McKinnon – it was to have been an exc-el board meeting but everyone was busy with activity weeks and the like. We took the opportunity to look at the emerging idea of rich tasks and how they might relate to how we take forwards A Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian. I have been looking at a project focus in my blog for quite a while see
fast tracking and
ICT summit – whilst others such as Ollie Bray and Preston Lodge High School have translated it into reality.

Our challenge is to find a way of fulfilling the four capacities of a curriculum for excellence within schools and also to provide some guidance to schools – it's not good enough just to say you are free to do what you like.

The problem with using the
Rich Tasks idea is that you either buy into the concept wholesale and follow it to the letter, or you modify it and use an alternative terminology. We played around with some ideas and Jaqui suggested ACE Projects – I really liked the idea and could see it being a reasonably acceptable title for kids. The idea builds upon the notion that pupils would be free to choose the focus of their project, lets say ornithology. They would then have to link their project with at least four recognised curricular areas – let's say science, maths, langauges and art (it could just as easily be a different four areas)- it's not too difficult to see how this could all be linked together around the selected focus. We would then use the
exc-elspace facility for pupils to write up their project – with most of the work being done at home (do they have access to ICT ? I hear you ask – well yes they probably do – and if they don't there are ways around that).

The projects would aim to develop the four capacities and formative assessment would play a central part with pupils having to present their findings – (confident individuals). The projects would gradually become more demanding as pupils move up from P6-S2. I am confident that if we could resolve some of the practical challenges – particularly in the secondary school then this idea has real merit. If this idea does capture people's (and children's imagination) then we would set up groups of teachers for each of the year groups being considered and a overall strategy group to hold the thing together any takers?

I'd like to encourage some debate on this matter on this blog – don't sit in silence.

Just remembered – where did extreme learning come from? Blame Alison Wishart – apparently the powers at be in don't like the abreviation of A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE) and want it mentioned in its full form every time its is referred to – so ACE PROJECTS would be a problem – take a look at
extreme learning debate – although we would need the permission of its creator –
Duncan Smeed – ideas welcome for alternatives.

Complementary management teams

We interviewed for the Quality Improvement Manager – Inclusion and Equality – position this morning. We interviewed three very strong candidates and I will post the interview questions here next week once we have completed other interviews for the Inclusion and equality team later this week.

We have identified our preferred candidate and await the normal formalities. As with all interviews it was the best candidate on the day who was selected but it did set me to thinking about the make-up of management teams. As I reflect on my career in management I can see that many of my less successful appointments have been where I have selected people who are similar to myself. I think we all have a tendency to want to appoint people in our own image. As I become more aware of my own deficiencies I can now see that there is a need to balance the skill-set present in a management team. The secret to making this work is for everyone to be honest about their abilities and to use their colleagues where their skills are more suited. I know I appreciate it when colleagues challenge my opinion or suggested strategy – I can be too gung ho and sometimes forget that in my rush to see improvement that I try to push things on too quickly.

It has now been confirmed that Helen Alexander (Williamson) is to retire from her position as Headteacher of Ross High School, Tranent. Helen is a remarkable person and has made an incredible and indelible mark upon the school and the community. This was recognised two years ago when the HMIe gave the school one of the best inspection report of any school in Scotland. I admire Helen for her energy, courage and determination to give children at Ross High School the best possible education. She is someone who stands by her principles and is prepared to challenge majority opinion if she feels the education of her children would be compromised. She will certainly be difficult to replace but she has left a strong legacy for her successor to build upon and I'm very confident about the future of the school.

Late update

I'm sitting here on Sunday night just having completed my preparation for the coming week. As I've stated elsewhere on this blog I like to make sure I start each week with as little as possible hanging over me. It doesn't always work but it certainly helps me to manage my job.

I bought a new camera (Panasonic Lumix FZ5) last week and tried it out during the weekend – here's a shot of moorhen's nest which I came across this afternoon.

I wasn't able to update my blog on either Thursday or Friday of last week – just a bit too hectic.

Friday started with the usaul Education Officers' Meeting then on to a board meeting at the Scottish Seabird Center where I am the Council's rep. My mum works as a volunteer at the centre and I have an interest in wildlife so it's certainly not a chore. Back to the office for a meeting with a teacher and his union rep. The met with Jennifer Tulloch of the Shed – our pre-vocational unit. Finished off the afternoon with a really productive meeting about PPP with Jimmy McGuiness and Sheila McKendrick.

I won't go into detail but I had a really good ED&R with Ann McLanachan on Thursday – Judy Arrowsmith – Ann's critical frind from the Learning Team initiative sat in on the meeting and it was interesting to see how the process was enhanced by an objective contributor. I then went on to Seonaid McGiilivray for her ED&R but also popped into Pretonpans Infant School and Pinkie Primary School. On to Meadowmill for the East Lothian Youth Games – outstanding!! Then onto Wallyford Primary School to meet the management team and Maureen Jobson.


David Scott

I popped into see David Scott at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary this evening. I met Donald McGillivray in the car park and we went up to see David together. I've checked this out with David and he is very happy for me to report this in my blog. David is in good spirits. He is due to be operated on in a couple of weeks on a faulty heart valve – eveything else is in good shape – the doctor was surprised that he had smoked for 30 years such was the good condition of his lungs and arteries. David hopes to be out a couple of weeks after that and is already thinking about how quickly he can get back to school – typical! He asked me to pass on his thanks to everyone who has been thinking of him and particularly to Fiona and Irene for holding the fort at Pinkie.

We had a nursery/primary Headteachers meetng this morning – very psotive resoonse to Rob Lewis' presentation on Getting Things Done. We have agreed that this should be a major focus of support for HTs next year – very interesting.

Afternoon spent interviewing for the vacant Quality Improvement Officer. We made our selection and I've informed the preferred candidate. I've phoned the unsuccessful candidates this evening – a job I have never enjoyed but people deserve early and personal notification if they have been unsuccessful I never give detailed feedback at that time but offer them the opportunity to phone or meet up at a later date to go over the interview.

Internet Access

We had a meeting of our ICT Management group this afternoon. We were faced with a decision about the upgrading of our Wide Area Network (WAN). Our hope was that we would be able to put at least a 10 Mg link to secondary schools and a 2 Mg link to primaries. It looks like we will be able to put a 100 Mg into secondaries and 10Mg to primaries. We feel that there is no point taking forwards our ICT strategy if we can't have fast access to the web. The problem we were facing was that the annual revnue costs are going to be much higher than we had budgeted, but we were unanimous that we must find the money. It was interesting that our Learning and Teaching Policy and the central place of digital literacy played a significant role in our deliberations. Hopefully the upgrade can be in place by December for secondaries and March for primaries.

There were interesting discussions around our webspace for pupil and staff blogging –; the need to suspend digital projectors from the ceiling; the research practitioner appointment; exc-el website; and our development strategy. These meetings are now extremely focussed and most of us feel we are making good progress.

Memory Going

7.30-8.30 In early to pick up on correspondence received on Friday afternoon.

8.30-10.00 Directorate Meeting – good discussion about better integrated services.

10.15-1.00 Out to InnerwickPrimary School to undertake Angus McCrury’s Employee Development and Review Meeting.

Got back to the office to find out that I’d missed two meetings – sorry Claire – and the other with Alan Blackie. That’s the problem when you try to rely on memory – I’d forgotten my diary this morning and misread the times when I left to go out to Innerwick.

1.00-3.00 Met with Derek Haywood then Sheila McKendrick to pick up on some budget and planning issues.

3.00-5.00 First meeting of the Finance Scrutiny and Advisory Group. We are facing some issues in session 2007-2008 with at least a frozen budget – whilst costs such as pay and fuel continue to rise. This will present us with some interesting challenges.

The group is made up of HTs Willie Galbraith, Donna Manson, Donald McGillivray and Derek Haywood, Sheila Ainslie and union reps. We had a very positive meeting and at our next meeting will be going over this year’s budget with a fine tooth comb. All too often we wait until the last minute before planning how we will address efficiencies. The group will advise the Directorate and help us to identify priorities and areas for savings. There are no peripheral services.

5.00-6.00 Chatted with Willie Galbraith HT Preston Lodge about a range of school specific issues.

More to Life

Friday 12th May

The day started off poorly when I heard that David Scott had been admitted to hospital. David is the Headteacher of Pinkie St Peter's Primary school. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

I spent the morning at the Education Officers' Meeting, then met Patrica McCall to sort out the Primary/Nursery Headteachers' Meeting Agenda, then cleared my desk of all the clutter which had built up over the week. I'd arranged to take the afternoon off and met my wife for lunch – great start to the weekend.

Someone asked me last week if I got bored spending all my time only thinking about education – or so it seemed to them. I'm very fortunate to have many interests outside work – e.g
scottish inheritance – this was previously on a different site but we're just in the process of changing to a new space – it's work in progress.

Probationer Development Day

I spent all day with our probationers – half the group this morning sand the other half this afternoon. I was following up on the
session I'd delivered in October.

My focus was Learning and Teaching and I wanted to challenge their thinking in relation to some of their practice. In sense I wanted to confront them about a number of issues and in that sense I was successful. The written feedback was very positive but I couldn't help thinking that it hadn't gone down as well as the October session. Now that could be due to the fact that it was uncomfortable at times – the major challenges being:

  1. Secondary schools need to be more like primary schools;
  2. Children need to be liked- linked with the notion of
    unconditional positive regard;
  3. Pupils don't need to study a subject in S1 or S2 to do well in the same subject in Standard Grade – posing the question about what it it is we are trying to do in schools;
  4. Teachers develop an ad hoc theory about their practice of which they only have a tacit awareness.

I really enjoyed the debate we engendered through considering these topics and was particularly pleased by the very positive response they had to the self-evaluation sheet which asked them to reflect upon the learner's entitlements as outlined in our
Learning and Teaching Policy.

However, I reckon I got the balance wrong between whole group dicussion – of which there was a lot and small group discusion of which there was only a little. Some people don't like to offer an opinion within a large group – despite the fact that they are teachers and I need to remember this for future sessions.

The tragedy is that so few of our 87 probationers are getting permanent jobs in east lothian – they have been an incredible group and my sincere hope is that they are not lost to the profession. I recounted my own starting point for my career – I went for four interviews after leaving college – and failed in each one. I then got an interview with Gillette to be a trainee salesperson. I'll never forget the evening when I got a phone call from the advisor of PE in Scottish Borders asking me if I could go along to Galashiels Academy the next day as there was an unexpected vacancy – I accepted immediately – half an hour later I got a phone call ffom Gillette offering me a job at twice the salary and a company car – I made the correct decision and have never once regretted it. I'm sure the jobs will come in the next two or three years and I encourage people to stick with it.


Application Forms

9.00-11.30 Departmental Management Team meeting – managers from Education and Children's Services meet to discuss issues of concern to all with a view to promoting integration of services. I think we are making progress on the integration team debate.

11.30-12.00 Sheila McKendrick and I went through application forms for the vacant Quality Improvement Officer position. We've drawn up a very strong leet. Some advice – focus your personal statement on the requirements of the advertised post; refer to recent experience not something from ten years ago; if you are applying after only a very short time in your current post – explain the reasons; if management experience is a desirable or essential criterion then make sure you describe what experience you have; refer to experience in post not in your social life; don't handwrite an application from – you might be able to read it but not everyone can.

12.00 – 2.00 Picked up on correspondence and devised a teacher's self-evaluation form linked with our Learning and Teaching policy – which Ill be using tomorrow with the probationers.

2.00-3.30 Sport and Education Group meeting – we've set up a Task Management Tracker for next session – it looks like we will be busy

Spent the rest of the day and most of this evening preparing for tomorrow's event.

I'll be referring to this powerpoint