Probationers and parental confidence

One of the issues facing schools these days is the concern expressed by some parents about a probationer teaching their child’s class.

A probationer is a newly qualified teacher (NQT) and in the past they would have just started teaching as a teacher – but without  any of the support systems we now have in place.

I would just like to reassure parents that the quality of new teachers coming into the profession has never been higher – nor has their commitment to develop their skills.

In that regard I need to mention Susan MacKay and Lisa Craig as two examples. Susan and Lisa were NQTs at Aberlady last year.  We were fortunate enought to be able to offer them permanent posts in the same school this year – and what an impact they are making in conjunction with their colleagues in the school.

This ties in with a session I led for half of the current NQTs on Thursday – again I was hugely impressed by their knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for the job – but perhaps the most important feature – and the one which gives me the most confidence about the future was their apparent determination to continue learning throughout their careers.

There is certainly something exciting developing within our schools at the moment as I listened to story after story of how newly qualified teachers were being encouraged and supported to develop their teaching skills  by their more experienced colleagues in our schools.  Thanks. 

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.


Developing Principal Teachers


Over the next few weeks we’ll be meeting with principal teachers from all of our secondary schools (we’ve already met with primary PTs and all schools’ depute heads). These meetings take place from 4.30-5.45pm and PTs opt into the opportunity.The first meeting took place this week and we enjoyed a very productive chat about how we go about developing PTs’ leadership skills. It looks like over 80% of  PTs have already opted into the voluntary programme – which is very encouraging.

Through “Curriculum for Excellence ” we have identified funding to help develop our PTs as ‘leaders of learning’. A key outcome of the meetings with PTs will be to shape that strategy.  It was interesting that none of the PTs who attended this week thought that the programme should require significant time out of school – even if cover could be provided – they want to be in their schools!

So what might be the alternatives? One of the things I talked about with Professor Richard Kerley, Vice Principal of Queen Margaret University College was the possibility of developing a leadership module for “Middle Managers” (how I hate that term!) in conjunction with ourselves. The module – which would be a part of a masters management programme – would adopt a blended learning approach with materials being available of the web and also involving face-to-face contact. The focus of the module would be upon leadership and management – and unapologetically focus on these to the exclusion of any educational content.

If we could match such a course – which might also be open to PTs from outwith East Lothian and other similar level managers from other fields – with some educational input we felt that there would be a significant demand.

Perhaps we could use of some of the funding to invest in developing a quality product for our PTs and other prospective leaders?

A key tenet of the programme would be to challenge the notion/assumption of the Leader as Superman – or Superwoman for that matter!!

Why seek promotion?

Perhaps it might be worth taking some time to reflect upon the job of Head of Education – a post I’ve now occupied for five months.

The following is going to include a lot of the vertical pronoun i.e. “I”, hopefully readers can put up with this indulgence to enable me to explore my own motivation and intended purpose. Can I reinforce at this point that I can only be successful as part of successful team.

I watched “Goodbye Mr Chips” this afternoon – typical Sunday afternoon fare.

As I watched the film it brought back the joy of teaching in schools – albeit in an overly sentimental medium. However, the post of Headteacher at a school like Dunbar Grammar School gives you an incredible opportunity to improve people’s lives – staff, pupils and the local community. In a way I envy people like Mr. Chips – those who devote themselves to one place for their entire career. All too often we sneer at teachers who have never moved on – but I know many teachers who have worked in only one school and have remained outstanding teachers throughout their career – most notably David Shanks of Selkirk High School (maybe there is something in here as David is a classics teacher just like Mr. Chips).

The question is why did I give up the opportunity to work directly with children and teachers to work outwith schools as I do in my current position? I had a chat with a friend on Saturday and tried to explain what it was I am trying to do. The problem is that this person knows how much pleasure I got from working in schools – and – kindly – recognized the kind of positive impact I can have.

So why move? I think the answer can be summed up in one word – influence. The dictionary definition of influence reads as follows:


n 1: a power to affect persons or events especially power based on prestige etc; “used her parent’s; influence to get the job” 2: causing something without any direct or apparent effort 3: a cognitive factor that tends to have an effect on what you do; “her wishes had a great influence on his thinking” 4: the effect of one thing (or person) on another; “the influence of mechanical action” 5: one having power to influence another; “she was the most important influence in my life”; “he was a bad influence on the children” v 1: have and exert influence or effect; “The artist’s work influenced the young painter”; “She worked on her friends to support the political candidate” 2: shape or influence; give direction to; “experience often determines ability”; “mold public opinion” 3: induce into action by using one’s charm; “She charmed him into giving her all his money”

As I read this I wonder which of the above definitions most closely matches my motivation: Nouns – definitely not 1 = 0%; 2 = 30%; 3 = 20%; 4 = 10%; 5 = 40%. Taking the verbs – 1 = 30%; 2 = 50%; 3 = 20%.

I suppose the question here is – do I want influence or power? – this led me to the dictionary again.


n 1: possession of controlling influence; “the deterrent power of nuclear weapons”; “the power of his love saved her”; “his powerfulness was concealed by a gentle facade 2: (physics) the rate of doing work; measured in watts (= joules/second) 3: possession of the qualities (especially mental qualities) required to do something or get something done; “danger heightened his powers of discrimination” 4: a state powerful enough to influence events throughout the world 5: (of a government or government official) holding an office means being in power; “being in office already gives a candidate a great advantage”; “during his first year in office”; “during his first year in power”; “the power of the president 6: one possessing or exercising power or influence or authority; “the mysterious presence of an evil power”; “may the force be with you”; “the forces of evil” 7: physical strength 8: a mathematical notation indicating the number of times a quantity is multiplied by itself 9: a very wealthy or powerful businessman; “an oil baron” v : supply the force or power for the functioning of; “The gasoline powers the engines”

1 = 20%; 2 = 0%; 3 = 30%; 4 = 0%; 5 = 10%; 6 = 0%; 7 = 0%; 8 = 0%; 9 = 0%

Reflecting upon the power definitions I don’t think they capture what it is that motivates me to seek promotion.

Returning to influence – I think I can use the definitions to sum up my purpose:

2. I think I do want to – cause things to happen without any direct or apparent effort – I think this captures a lot of what I’m trying to do in that I am trying to create a culture and positive flow which other people can pick up upon and develop. I often recall Aesop’s fable about the North Wind and the Sun

“The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.”

3. The next definition – a cognitive factor that tends to have an effect on what you do; “her wishes had a great influence on his thinking –  also rings a bell. For me this is about presenting ideas in a clear and unambiguous manner, being prepared to listen, admit to mistakes, enable others to contribute and to lead, and finally, demonstrate that I am committed to reflecting upon my practice with a view to constantly improving.

4. The effect of one thing (or person) on another; “the influence of mechanical action”. Sometimes I do have to use my position to get things done – the difference here that I can only use this power sparingly and only when I have very clearly set out the reasons why I am using my position.

5: one having power to influence another; “she was the most important influence in my life”; “he was a bad influence on the children” I think I am trying to model behaviour for others to copy. My behaviour is critical in that if I don’t behave in the manner which I espouse then the gap between the rhetoric and behaviour would undermine the change process.

So I want to influence – it’s as simple as that. I suppose it must be pretty close to arrogance that I believe that my influence is benign or even a force for good. But on reflection I do believe that what we are trying to do is important and could make the educational experience of every child in East Lothian significantly better. More than that I would like to create a culture where teachers are happy, fulfilled and valued.

The last question must be – if I can’t have the influence I want to have – should I go back to schools?