Using Glow Meet (Adobe Connect)

I had reason this week to set up a three-way video conference with two other directors of education from other parts of Scotland.  I have to say that this was my first experience of using such technology for such a purpose and I’m now officially a fan.  If they had come to visit me it would have taken the best part of day’s travel time and a combined journey distance 0f over 900 miles.

I asked my colleague David Gilmour to describe the techie bit; but I’m seriously thinking about using this for some face-to-face meetings in East Lothian. Anybody out there interested in taking part in my first GLOW MEET Listen and Learn?


It’s a very up-to-date, good quality web conferencing system which enables Glow users to hold online meetings between any number of participants, in any location. It’s used to link classes hundreds of miles apart, offer national teacher CPD sessions and simply to share events and performances within individual schools. It can be used from any computer on the web, in or out of school.

Often people think it’ll be awkward to use, but the new version, based on Adobe Connect, is proving easy to use and popular with staff. There’s no longer any need for special software to be installed, and no complicated start-up wizard to get through.

Most of the time, people just use it in a Skype-like way, with voice, video and perhaps a simple chat box. But it’s capable of much more than that: participants can share presentations, sketch on a whiteboard and even share a view of applications running on their desktop. The meetings can be recorded, too, for replay in the Glow Group or for sharing more widely as a simple video.

What do you need to take part?

You can join a Glow Meet with as little as the URL of the right Glow Group, and your Glow username and password. If you want to talk, or to be seen, you’ll need a microphone and webcam, but they’re not essential. You click a link, Adobe Connect starts up, and you’re in.

Here’s a “Getting Started” guide:, or contact David Gilmour or Shirley Lawson in Curriculum ICT at East Lothian Council.

Shared Services – taking account of the emotional perspective

On the 22nd November East Lothian Council and Midlothian Council approved the first phase of sharing operational and management support for education and children’s services.

This was the culmination of 12 months work by a huge number of people to address the issues and challenges which emerged in the course of that process.

That work included research into governance, tax, human resources legislation, accountability, service redesign, and a range of other pragmatic issues. Yet if there was one factor which was not covered in sufficient depth it was the emotional response to shared services.

That response can be characterised as a deep personal concern for the future, where the current certainties are replaced by fear and uncertainty. That is not to say that there are any certainties for anyone involved in delivering public services in Scotland, the UK, or Europe for that matter, it’s just that shared services provides a concrete focus upon which people can attribute their fears.

That’s why it’s interesting to reflect upon a recent research report into the perceptions and realities of employees regarding shared services.

The research surveyed the opinions of over 100 UK public sector representatives, from functions spanning HR, payroll, finance, purchasing and IT.

The majority of respondents (72%) were from government and education, with blue light services and health organisations also included.

Organisations generally anticipated more negative impacts than proved to be the case for those who had already implemented shared services.

This negative perception was most significant for areas like job security, where 67% of respondents felt that sharing services would impact negatively. This figure increased significantly for operational employees where 8 in 10 feared for their jobs. In contrast, out of those that had already implemented shared services, over half reported a positive effect on job security (51%) and career development (53%), while the positive effects on skills development (81%) and job satisfaction (74%) were even more convincing.

This research seems to show the tendency for organisations and individuals to overestimate the difficulties of shared services and to underestimate the benefits that can be delivered. Those organisations not sharing anticipated that a shared service would be significantly less positive in areas that are closest to employees’ hearts than those already sharing had experienced.

If there is a lesson from such research for those of us who are embarking, or about to embark on shared services, it is that the emotional perspective is vitally important and that it should be considered throughout the change process. That’s not to say that we should decide whether or not to proceeed with shared services on an emotional whim, but that rather we should recognise and continually address the emotional response it generates.

Job swap

Do any East Lothian teachers or social workers fancy a job swap for a day?

Over the last few years I’ve had a number of colleagues from the Department come into shadow me for a day. Typically they have been senior or middle managers, or on occasions managers from Scottish Government.

Here’s an insight from one of those observers on what they made of their shadowing experience.

I’d like to open up the shadowing offer again this year – this time to non-promoted staff, but with a bit of a twist. The twist is that I’d like to come to your place of work for a day, engage in your preparation work and perhaps undertake some predetermined tasks, perhaps teach a class, conduct an interview, or whatever we agree.

Given the challenges we face in public service I need to fully understand what it’s like to be on the frontline if I am to fully represent this perspective in strategy and policy decisions.

If you are interested drop me a line, explaining why you think it would be good for me to job swap with you for a day. I intend to undertake two job swaps, one with a teacher and one with a social worker. The swaps would take place between January and June of next year.

My e-mail address is

Twitter: Confessions of an unjustified sceptic

I joined Twitter 60 days ago today. I’d put it off for nearly two years as I thought it was either a vehicle for shadowing celebrities, or a mindless activity in which people spent their time telling each other what they had for breakfast.

How wrong I was!!

In the intervening period I’ve come to realise that it’s a unique learning resource – and I talk as someone who has written over 900 posts on my Learning Log. By discovering others throughout the World who share a passion for education, tracking their thoughts, following their links, and engaging in productive conversations – I have been inspired, challenged and professionally invigorated.

The other – possibly most surprising outcome – has been that it has proved to be an engine for policy development. This happened in a completely organic manner yesterday morning. Sitting over a post-breakfast cup of coffee I spied an interesting tweet from that dynamic educational practitioner and thinker in the form of Fearghal Kelly. The tweet pointed to his most recent post on A Framework for Learning and Teaching.

Over the next hour I engaged in a conversation with Fearghal and others from throughout the twittisphere which culminated in the #Learnmeet concept being identified, agreed and committed to action. Not bad for a Saturday morning.

Added to that are a series of conversations which helped to shape a first draft of a senior high school curriculum policy – which is now about to go out for consultation using more traditional lines of communication.

Taken together these examples have shown me that we must embrace Twitter and encourage other colleagues to engage in the dialogue about our practice which can have such a positive impact upon our work, the quality of education we can provide, and – I would suggest – our well being. For too often professionals who wish to engage in professional dialogue can be isolated in their work setting if no-one shares their enthusiasm. With the use of Twitter we have the opportunity to challenge that sense of isolation and create a tipping point where dialogue about education becomes the norm.

To all on Twitter who have made me feel most welcome, thank you.

I Am Learner

I am learner.
Just as no one can see the colours I see, just as no one can hear the music I hear, just as no one can feel what I feel when I hold something in my hand, and just as no one can sense the world as I perceive it around me, no one can teach me.

No one can teach me.

I am learner.
I am not taught. I learn. I am human and a social animal, so I learn with others. I do learn from others, but what I learn is rarely, if ever, what is taught to me, and rarely, if ever, what others learn at the same time from the same teachers. Often I learn entirely alone.

I am learner.
I perceive. I use my senses to know the world around me. I discern patterns. I shape my understanding through metaphor and analogy. I seek to create purpose in my life. Sometimes I conceive purpose where there is none; often I accept others’ conceptions of purpose in life, others’ conceptions of purpose in the universe.

I am learner.
I build a universe in my mind and I live there, a universe that changes constantly as I learn. All people, including the people I love, live alongside me in this constantly shifting universe. I see only glimpses of the lives they lead, because, just as they are players in my world, I am a player in all the universes created by every other person alive.

I am learner.
I connect. I connect with people and ideas in the physical and virtual worlds and discern no boundary between the two worlds. I learn in, across, through, with and from the networks in which I live, work, play and interact. I continually extend my own potential through my connections. I make connections between what I have already learned and what the world chooses to present to me through my own interactions with the world and through the interventions and actions of others.

I connect therefore I learn.

I am learner.
I am able to recite facts, echo the opinions of others, assume the attitudes of so-called authorities when urged to do so, but I prefer to seek real knowledge of the changing world in which we live, genuine understanding of the realities of the human condition, authentic insight into our intrinsic dependence on one another. My need to know for myself is stronger than my need to recite from or imitate others.

I am learner.
I imagine. I reach beyond the reality of my senses and there I build my own dreams and visions; sometimes I welcome others’ wishful thinking and create my own place in their fantasies, accepting the values they place before me, filtering and refining them to fit my universe. Often, by accidents of time and place and birth, I am conditioned by those around me to accept their social, moral, religious and political values. In these circumstances, I still create my own truth but I struggle to do so freely, constrained by the strictures imposed on me by others.

I am learner.
I listen to stories from others; I tell my own stories, to myself, to others; I participate in stories, mine and others’. I determine who I am through a prism of dramas, tales, myths, histories, lies, assumed truths, rituals, games and a complex and intricate narrative that I weave around the realities of my life. I live and learn from the drama of the now and I recall and learn from the narratives woven out of past dramas.

I am learner.
I am not taught.

I learn.

by John Connell – originally posted at

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.”

The Death of Distance


It was the economist Frances Cairncross who coined the phrase “The Death of Distance” She used this to demonstrate how the concept of distance has been annihilated due to modern communications technology.

This was brought home to me recently when reading my grandfather’s journal. Douglas James Gibson fought in the First World War 1914 – 1919, survived typhoid in 1921, went out to Malaya in 1923; and by 1942 was managing five rubber plantation estates until the Japanese invaded and captured Singapore. He was taken prisoner and held in Changi Jail as an internee from 6th March 1942 until his release on 3rd September 1945 – losing 90 lbs (41 kg) in the process.

Over his three and half years in incarceration he kept a meticulous diary in his passport, in almost microscopic writing. Looking at this diary seventy years later it’s hard to relate to how communications have so shrunk our world.

When my grandmother Jess boarded the Empire Star, one of the last boats out of Singapore, my grandfather didn’t hear if she was safe until 14 months later. The letter he received to give him the news of her safety had been dispatched nearly 9 months earlier. In the course of this period he was aware that the Empire Star had been struck by three directs hits in the Straits of Durian,  just off Singapore, although he never gave up hope of her survival. 

He started sending letters to her immediately on his internment and continued to send these off into the ether – not sure if they would get there or if there was anyone there to receive them.

Through the lens of 2011 it’s hard to believe that we would have to wait 14 seconds – never mind 14 months to hear the news of a loved one. With mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, 24 hour rolling news we expect to be informed immediately – and there’s hell to pay of we aren’t.

Yet who am I to criticise? For in one of those lovely quirks that happen in life I spoke to my son yesterday, via Skype, nearly 66 years to the day that my grandfather was released. And where was he calling from?……………………….Singapore.

What would my grandfather have given for such an opportunity?

Douglas J Gibson, Changi Jail – sketched by Rupert Pease (Died Changi 1944)

 Diary entries March April 1942


After putting it off for over two years I’ve set up a twitter account.

My first tweet reads:

“should I keep a twitter account as a director of education and Children’s services?”

Perhaps a twitter account would make my role more transparent and more connected to colleagues, parents, young people and members of our communities?

A sense of ceremony

I attended a beautiful Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School this morning. The event was held to celebrate the closure of the school building before it is demolished to make way for the new school which will be built over the next 15 months.

I’m neither Catholic nor religious but I was very taken by the ceremony and sense of community which was engendered this morning.

It made me think that we don’t pay enough attention to ceremony in our modern lives – I certainly haven’t read anything about the role of ceremony in any recent management books I’ve come across. Nor is there a performance indicator which measures the effective use of ceremony. Nevertheless, I think there is something about us as a species which likes the comfort and rhythm of a well conducted ceremonial occasion. It certainly acts to bind people together in an act of common purpose – a feature of life which is all too conspicuous by its absence.

Listening and Learning

I held the second Listen and Learn meeting of the session this week.  They are now scheduled on a weekly basis for the rest of the year.

My colleague Richard Parker told me today that he’d like to be a fly on the wall to see if I could keep to my side of the bargain, i.e. listen!! – I don’t know what he was getting at?

My guests today were five P1 teachers. Last week I’d met with six primary school depute headteachers.

If the last two weeks are anything to go by the sessions are going to prove incredibly valuable in providing me with an insight into some of the challenges and problems facing my colleagues in schools. It’s also a pleasure to sit down with people who obviously love their work – even if there are frustrations and obstacles which sometimes conspire against them.

Concerns have ranged from ICT support – especially in terms of quick repairs to equipment; to questions about how schools are funded; pressures on non-teaching time; buraucracy; support for learning; class sizes; and curriculum for excellence.

Despite my attempting to keep the focus on their concerns they were were uncomfortable with the hour simply becoming a “moaning session” and we explored a range of other educational issues.

I was particularly interested today in how the teachers felt invigorated by the changes which have taken place in early years education in terms of the shift to active learning and how it has had such a positive effect on boys’ learning and engagement in particular.  I even managed to bounce the idea of parent buddies off them and was pleasantly suprised by their response to the idea.

I’m genuinely looking forward to these sessions as we progress through the year and getting the chance to meet colleagues who really do live up to the sobriquet “professional”.

Next week I’m meeting six secondary maths teachers.