Educational Leadership and social media

I first started using social media in 1997 when I was part of an online community which provided great support to me when I was engaged in a school transformation process.

Since that time I’ve continued to use social media networks, more particularly a blog as a secondary school head teacher, a learning log as head education and then director, and most recently a twitter account.

I think I’ve only come to realise how important such engagement is to me in my leadership role in the last few months.

Last year I decided to take time out from social media. So from the 10th May 2010 – 10th May 2011 I didn’t write or post to my own or any other network.

My reasons for stopping included the fact that a number of my colleagues in schools didn’t appreciate the manner in which I explored ideas in public without having first shared the ideas with them. Out of respect for them and to see how it might affect my work I decided to take the year out.

So what did I find out?

Perhaps the most surprising consequence was that I found my day to day work to be much harder and all consuming – I hesitate to use the word stressful. Looking back I think it was because my mind was completely drawn into operational matters.

The other element which was missing was the opportunity to reflect upon my work – to be able to try to make sense of my world and to be able to share and check that meaning out with others.

Another simple difference was the opportunity to learn from others. This has recently become even more apparent as twitter has opened up a completely new world of links and perspectives on the world of education.

On reflection my year out was a year without learning. I did my job, I solved problems, I led the service, but I didn’t learn – and without learning we are not professionals.

So at a recent meeting with colleagues I made it clear that I was going to recommence my learning log and redefined my reasons for doing so, which are to:

– scan the educational and children’s services horizon;
– research and examine international policy and practice;
– generate, explore and develop ideas for school and service improvement;
– collect and manage knowledge relevant to service development;
– consider how we can better integrate education and services to support children and young people from pre-birth to 18;
– engage in a transparent and accessible manner with colleagues and service users;
– promote and model the leadership behaviours and values  of our service; and
– take time to critically reflect upon issues of topical interest.

The underlying question which remains for me is if such a discipline can make such a difference to me, in my role as an educational leader, then how might it benefit colleagues in similar roles – and I would include teachers in this?

Of course, the normal response to such a query comes in one (or more)of three forms:

A) I don’t have time
B) I’m not into technology
c) I don’t see the point

The bottom line here is that the decision must always lie with the individual but ironically one of the safety valves that could make a difference to an over-worked and stressed profession is to begin to develop a routine which includes a moment of public reflection.

I’ll leave the last words to a paraphrase from John Dewey, which I use as my strap line for this learning log:

“we learn from our experience…..if we reflect upon our experience.”

Edubuzz – half a million page views in one day! is a learning network for learners in East Lothian, Scotland.

Set up by David Gilmour and Ewan McIntosh in 2006 it opens a window onto education in East Lothian, and enables a wider range of learning approaches, by providing staff and learners with some extra low-cost tools for web publishing, collaboration and communication.

It currently hosts over 1000 blogs for over 2500 registered users. The system is owned and managed by East Lothian Council Education & Children’s Services, and used by staff and students in the county’s 40 schools and central offices. Users also include parents and staff from other services.

Usually visits to the eduBuzz server are around 10,000 to 15,000 per day. During the snow closures we saw it reach 25,000 visits per day for the 5 closure days.
Last week it reached a new peak of 37,623 visits and served over half a million (545,479) pages in 24 hours.

Resuming a journey

One year can pass very quickly! 

On my return I thought it might be worthwhile  repeating what I said a few years ago about the purpose and benefits of keeping a Learning Log.

A “Learning Log” can be captured in a relatively simple tri-colon:

“Where you’ve been; where you are; and where you’re going”.

I’m not talking here of travel in any sort of geographical sense, but more about the journey which relates to opinions, ideas and perceptions.

A Learning Log imposes a discipline upon the reflective process, which, although it may be going on informally, or tacitly, all of the time, can often be lost in the ‘clutter’ which forms much of our daily, weekly and monthly work.

The Learning Log gives me that brief – and ever more valuable, opportunity to step outside and look back upon my practice and direction of travel.

The reflective power of the on-line Learning Log is magnified when the contribution of others’ comments is taken into consideration. The Learning Log therefore provides an invaluable strategic map, in that enables me to retrace my steps and see where I’ve come from, identify where I am at any one point in time and, hopefully, enables me to explore the future in a relatively safe environment.

The other, incredibly useful role for the Learning Log is that it enables me to see connections between various things that I’m doing that might not be apparent if they were contained within their normal silos.  For me it’s this connecting function that helps me to make sense of some the very disparate things that I do in my day-to-day work.

If this seems focused upon the personal benefits of keeping a learning log then that has been deliberate – the benefit of a Learning Log to other people is very much dependent upon the reader’s perception – whilst at the same time modelling the kind of transparency which I believe should be characteristic of modern public service systems.

Educational Learning Log Awards 2008

The moral of the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant is that each of the blind men has a different perspective on what an elephant is – depending on which part of the elephant they are touching.

In many ways the various interest groups involved in education can behave as “blind men” as they tend to only “see” the parts they can touch.

I believe that only by sharing our own perspective and also taking account of others’ perspectives can we begin to properly understand the “elephant” that is education. 

For the purposes of this competition a Learning Log will be defined as any personal on-line space where a person uses Web 2.0 technology to share their perspective on the education process and engages in a dialogue with a wider audience.

To qualify as a learning log the person must engage in some reflection of their own experiences. John Dewey’s assertion sets out the definition even more clearly:

“We only learn from experience…………..if we reflect upon experience”

Is it a Learning Log?

Here are ten questions you might like to consider when judging the quality of a Learning Log:

  • Does the person reflect upon their own experiences?
  • Does the person reflect upon their own effectiveness?
  • Does the person explore a range of issues connected to education?
  • Does the person demonstrate a capacity to make use of others’ blogs/logs to enhance their own thinking?
  • Does the person engage with those who comment on their Log?
  • Does the person demonstrate a capacity to link back to previous posts to show progress in their thinking?
  • Does the person refer to research or other evidence to support their perspectives?
  • Does the person have a capacity to explore alternatives to current practice?
  • Does the person introduce readers to new resources?
  • Does……? (please suggest other criteria)

I’d welcome nominations for Learning Logs for the following perspectives: 


Doug Belshaw – from the perspective of a teacher at an English secondary school.

John Johnston – from the perspective of a teacher at a Scottish primary school. 2

Neil Winton – From the perspective of an English teacher, Perth, Scotland

Gilbert Halcrow from Hong Kong – articulate, reflective, provocative, lively. 1

       Specialist staff

Alan Coady – from the perspective of a guitar teacher 3


Mumble – from the perspective of an early years child’s parent. 1

Guineapigmum – from the perspective of a high school parent. 2

       School Leaders/managers

Mark Walker – from the perspective of a primary school principal in Melbourne, Australia 3

Ollie Bray – Depute, Geographer and, in the words of the late, great Ken Campbell, a Seeker. 1

Donald MacDonald– from the perspective ofa secondary school head teacher in Edinbburgh, Scotland


Essentially a primary school category, this really boils down to the collaborative relation between teacher and pupils and the joie de vivre evident in the work – Campie PS – P6b (Miss Collins) 1


Anne Johnston – from the perspective of a school librarian 2



Law Primary School – for trailblazing and for “the proof of the pudding” in their recent excellent HMIe report.


Ewan McIntosh – from the perspective of public service media 3

Sarah Ebner – from the schoolgate on the Time on-line



John Connell – from the perspective of technology in learning and teaching. 4

        Local Authority/District education leaders

Greg Whitby – from the perspective of a district administrator in Sydney, Australia 2

Niel Rochelle – from the perspective of a school superintendent, East Aurora, New York, USA 3

       National/District/Local support staff

I’d also like to nominate Mick Burns for his blog Careers

       National government staff 

I’m happy to accept nominations and votes from any country drop me an e-mail

I’ll keep a running total of votes against each nomination.

Please feel free to suggest other perspectives. (* indicates nominated perspectives)

I’m not sure if there will be any prizes (unless there are any sponsors out there?)

Nominations and votes will close on the 10th December.



School Gate


 Flickr – landofnod

Back to work today after a great two week holiday without any contact with the web.  It’s been the longest time I’ve been disconnected for over three years and I can’t say I missed it.

Having said that there have been lot of ideas floating around my head over this period and I look forward to trying to post about them over the next few weeks.

It was a pleasure to get an e-mail from Sarah Ebner who has just started a parental perspective blog entitled School Gate for Timesonline. It set me to thinking again why – or it certainly seems that way to me –  that it’s always mums who seem to blog about education from a parental point of view.  Where are all the dads??? 

Developing my role

As Head of Education I had a very clear and unambiguous role, i.e.  I was responsible for everything which came under the banner of education of children and young people from 3-18 years of age.  In my new role as Acting Director of Education and Children’s Services I have a much wider remit which includes the oversight of education but also gives me responsibility for the social care agenda for children and families in East Lothian.  I’m fortunate to have two outstanding heads of service in the form of Alan Ross, Head of Children’s Services, and Maureen Jobson, Acting Head of Education, both of whom have tremendous experience in their respective fields and can be relied upon to deal with the business of managing our £85 million budget whilst also contributing and shaping our strategic direction.

As Director I also have a major corporate responsibility as a member of the Board of Directors, alongside the other directors and the chief executive.  It’s this area that has perhaps the greatest potential for seeing a change in the way that we do things in East Lothian.  For example, we have agreed following our recent Managers Conference to revise our corporate plan to consider things in a much more thematic approach than simply from a service perspective.  For example, by considering the corporate parenting agenda as a theme we can begin consider how each of the discrete services can work together more effectively to provide a service which has a positive impact on the lives of Looked After and Accommodated Children – as opposed to one where the needs of the individual service took precedence over the needs of the child.

As a Director I also play a key role in the interface with the elected administration through working closely with the convener pf education and children’s services and other senior members of the administration in assisting them to fulfil their democratically elected agenda. The range and number of meetings can be a burden in terms of the time required but this is a necessary outcome of democratic accountability if we are to ensure that local government is properly managed and effectively delivered.

I’m also heavily involved in developing our strategy and practice in relation to the integration of various services to ensure that we work together effectively to meet the needs of young people and families.  As the chair of the Chief Officers group which includes senior representatives from education, police, health, the voluntary sector, children’s services and elected members we have begun to see a more connected approach to planning and the use of limited resources.  One of the exciting dimensions of this approach is our emerging strategic emphasis on Early Year and Parenting.  I have used this concept as a prism through which to reflect upon all aspects of our practice – that is not to say that everything that we do can be explicitly connected to early years or parenting – but that it’s a useful process through which we can begin to align resources and our practice to make substantive , long-term impact on the lives of children who otherwise would be trapped by the generational cycle of disengagement and poor outcomes which can afflict so many families.

In addition to these long term agendas there are of course the wide range of day-to-day issues which can land on my desk as the person with whom the “buck stops” – in many ways these are the bread and butter of my job but there does remain a danger that they can draw you into that cycle of “fixing things” – a phenomenon I recently wrote about – as opposed to considering the underlying issues which often underpin the day-to-day problems. This does require a disciplined approach if I am not to get lost in the detail and keep myself focused upon the bigger picture – which doesn’t always happen.  To that extent I think the role of this Learning Log is absolutely crucial as it’s the one of the few times in my working week when I have the freedom to explore ideas, reflect upon my work and consider the “opposite worlds” which might provide a more fruitful outcome than our current practice which can so dominate our lives.

Looking forwards I reckon I also have key role to sustain and support my colleagues who are dealing with issues at a face-to-face level with our customers – our senior leaders in schools and children’s services face innumerable challenges and do so in such positive and professional manner which explains why our respective services are of such a high standard. Nevertheless, such challenges inevitably take their toll which is why it is my intention in the coming year to work with my colleagues at a much closer personal level by regularly visiting them on site, attempting to understand their problems and offering my support both in a practical sense and in a longer-term strategic manner to change the way in which we do things.

1000th Edubuzz Blog – opening a window


What is is the blogging platform set up by East Lothian Council to open a window on our practice and create a networked learning community which extends beyond East Lothian.

Over the last two years Edubuzz has expanded and expanded, with over 250,000 visits in March – up 100% since the March 2007!

Much of this growth is due to the tirless work of David Gilmour – our Edubuzz co-ordinator.

I’ve copied David’s post about the establishment of the 1000th Edubuzz blog.  

Last week blog number 1000 was created for a P7 student at the small rural Innerwick Primary School.

It was part of a set of 7 for the P7 members of Lindy Lynn’s composite P4/5/6/7 class, reflecting the increasing use of blogs to provide web publishing tools to individual students. The blogs will be used by the P7s for a project to reflect on their time at Innerwick, and the group are full of ideas!

Staff are also talking about the possibility offered to get some collaborative work going with other feeder primaries in the Dunbar Grammar School cluster, with the aim of helping the children to get to know some other students who’ll be joining them at the much larger secondary after the summer.

In another sign of the times, due to staff pressures, the P7 group were trained in a 3-hour session, without their class teacher, in how to use the blogs, and – not surprisingly – picked it up very quickly. They’ll now be training their teacher, and supporting one another, to get started in the classroom.

Engaging with our communities – the role of social media


We held a meeting last week where we explored the potential of weblogs to assist the community planning process – based on the edubuzz model -although not necessarily using the same platform.

Community Planning is a process which helps public agencies to work together with the community to plan and deliver better services which make a real difference to people’s lives.

The aims of Community Planning in Scotland are:

1. making sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them; allied to

2. a commitment from organisations to work together, not apart, in providing better public services.

There are two further key principles in addition to the two main aims outlined above:

3. Community Planning as the key over-arching partnership framework helping to co-ordinate other initiatives and partnerships and where necessary acting to rationalise and simplify a cluttered landscape;

4. the ability of Community Planning to improve the connection between national priorities and those at regional, local and neighbourhood levels.

As we discussed the potential of weblogs it became apparent that this might just be a vehicle which could be of some real use.  If we could encourage key figures and other members of a local community to keep a weblog where they would reflect upon local issues and stimulate a dialogue within a community, the likelihood of planners and public services to take account of these opinions would be greatly enhanced. The old ways of questionnaires, focus groups, community conferences, canvassing do not enable a substantive, two way, on-going dialogue to take place where ideas can be shaped and developed over a period of time.

I know how I am being influenced by being able to read the weblogs of teachers, parents and children – surely this has some possibility for community engagement?

So how might such a scheme work? Let’s take a community like Tranent.  If we established an area where the weblogs of of the community could be accessed and new members could participate we would begin to build up a very rich picture of the strengths, opportunities and needs within the community.  Officers and elected members could engage with this dialogue and perhaps even have their own weblogs to make the decision making process even more transparent and interactive. 

I know some people might feel very threatened by such a suggestion, as it appears to almost encourage anarchy by handing over the “airwaves” to the public – yet surely that is what community planning is about? – a transparent enagagement with the local community to the point where people eventually (it would take some time) begin to believe that they do have a voice and that it is listened to. Even more importantly those who do make the decisions can explain the thought process and reasoning behind decisions – even those decisions which are unpopular (see example).

Last observations:

  • A councillor recently described how no one had attended any of their surgeries in the last four weeks. 
  • Another councillor described how few people had attended their surgeries over a three year period. 
  • East Lothian Council have started to hold some council meetings in the evening to be more available to the public – very few (less than 10 have attended in any one evening) .

Perhaps it really is time to explore alternative vehicles for community interaction?

639 Posts and 1,151 comments


I was just about to write my evening’s post when I saw on the dashboard that I’d written 639 posts and had 1,151 comments on this log since it started in August 2006.

I just wanted to thank all those who have left comments over this  period and to say that they have had a significant impact upon how I approach my work.   

I’d like to thank………….

Best individual blog 

Well blow me!

I’ve been nominated for ‘Best Individual Blog’ at the Edublog Awards. I’m honoured to be in such exalted company.

As Ewan MacIntosh writes it’s great to have two people from Scotland nominated for an international award. 

Many thanks to the person who nominated me – whoever you are?

Here’s what Edublogs have to say about the awards;

We are delighted to announce this years finalists, and to officially open voting. Once you’ve had time to evaluate the finalists yourself, click through the category titles to vote.

One thing we should say at this point is that the response to these awards has been amazing… even though you had to fill out contact form after contact form to get your nominations in, we still received over 500 and choosing a shortlist from these has been immensely hard – if you haven’t got listed this year, don’t be disheartened, for ‘best teacher’ for example we had over 80 different blogs to choose from!