Compulsory Training in Mind, Brain and Education for teachers?

I find it ironic that the only training/continuous professional development (CPD) which is compulsory for educationalists in East Lothian relates to such things as Health and Safety; Recruitment and Selection; or Disciplinary and Grievance courses.

My experience at Harvard has made me question whether or not there might be a place for compulsory professional updates on new knowledge and practice emerging from research into the Mind, Brain and Education.

Picking up on Richard Elmore’s thoughts the profession is often at the mercy of the latest fad/methodology/approach which will have some theoretical context and background but which is all too often ignored in favour of getting down to what we might call the “tricks”.

Would it not be liberating for teachers to treat them as professionals – in much the same way as doctors – and give them the most recent knowledge relating to the brain, mind and education which they could then apply to their own practice?

In this way they can be reflecting upon their own and others practice in a much more meaningful way than merely implementing an “approach” which has been developed by others.

If we did go down this route I’d like to explore the possibility of establishing a team of staff members from throughout our authority who would pull together the materials, devise the teaching model, and deliver the courses.

In our Health and Safety course – which all senior managers must complete – there is a necessity to pass the final written assignment. Would such an approach have merit in relation to our professional practice ?- I think it would and I would be willing to be one of the first through the course.


A week since my last post. It’s just that time of year.

Appointment panels, report writing, presentation preparation, e-mails, Integrated Children’s Services Plan and meetings — lots of meetings.

We held our last Head Teachers’ conference of the year today and it proved to be well received – although I think we pushed it a bit in the afternoon by having too many direct input sessions.

The highlights of the day were Alan Ross’s presentation of GIRFEC; discussion about our emerging leadership strategy; Ronnie Summers’ session on edubuzz and the role of HTS; a presentation from PTs Pauline Inglis and Kathy McGrane on PTs as Leaders of Learning; and a discussion on the implementation strategy for learning and teaching.

The evolving aspiration to achieve excellence in learning and teaching; leadership; and self-evaluation help to provide a real foundation upon which we can build the future of education in East Lothian.

Leadership Strategy?


It was just an innocent question but it triggered a fascinating and very productive discussion this morning.

The questioner had been Dee Torrance who had invited me to speak to the most recent cohort of SQH candidates at Peebles Hydro Hotel.  As well enjoyed a cup of coffee after the session she popped the question:

“So what is your leadership strategy?”

I don’t think anyone in East Lothian would have asked that question such has been the focus on leadership development. But as I attempted to answer her question it occurred to me that all I was talking about were the opportunities which we now offer to our leaders and prospective leaders.  What came out was a list: HT conferences; PT conferences; Depute conferences; leadership seminars; coaching; mentoring; core CPD; exchange programme; SQH, etc, etc.

Dee’s question popped into my mind this morning when I met with some colleagues 3 HTs – Patrica McCall, Dorothy Bartholomew and Freda Ross, Maureen Jobson (Quality Improvement Manager, Learning and Teaching), and Kirsty McRae (Staff Development C-ordinator). The purpose of our meeting was to consider the idea of core CPD for HTs and our HT conference programme for next year.

As we started the discussion we fell into the same trap that I had fallen into at Peebles -i.e.  listing activities.

By repeating Dee’s question we started to give some form and purpose to the potentially diverse list of activities.

What emerged was as follows:

East Lothian Education Leadership Strategy (draft)

Our Leadership strategy provides a context for the range of development opportunities we provide for leaders at all levels within the East Lothian education service.

Leadership development activities can fall into one of four inter-related categories:

    1. Management
    2. Learning and Teaching
    3. People and culture
    4. Nurture and well-being

Management – this category has a strong knowledge focus – where leaders are provided with the knowledge necessary to fulfil many of the other aspects of their job.

Examples would include – Finance procedures and systems; IT; Personnel policies and procedures; “Getting things Done”

By having a depth of knowledge and competence in these areas leaders develop confidence that their practice enables them to comply with regulation and demands of the job which often carry a significant stress burden.

There is a need for all HTs to regularly update their skills and knowledge in relation to these areas. It is our intention to offer a programme of seminars in the course of each academic year. HTs will be expected to attend two of these sessions in any one year.

Learning and Teaching – this category will include all development activities which relate to the improving the learning and teaching process.

People and culture – this category will underpin many of the leadership development activities within  the other categories although we may offer particular activities which directly relate to the leadership culture to which we aspire in the East Lothian education service.

Nurture and well-being- this category includes all those activities which enable us to nurture and promote the personal well-being of our leaders. Examples would include coaching, mentoring and health at work.

Leadership Training Delivery – As a rule of thumb we reckon that we should make best use of our existing leaders within East Lothian to ensure that we share good practice, capture wisdom, raise self-esteem by asking them to lead 80% of sessions. In order to prevent our service from becoming too insular approximately 20% of Leadership development sessions should be led by people external to East Lothian.

This is obviously work in progress but I reckon we can flesh this out over the next few weeks into  something which will give our Leadership programme some real bite.

Getting Things Done

As readers of my log will be aware we are placing a huge focus upon developing leadership skills within East Lothian. However, we must not forget that sometimes people’s ability to lead effectively is seriously compromised by the challenge provided by the huge array of day-to-day managerial tasks.

To support school Head Teacher’s and Depute Head Teacher’s in their managerial roles, Rob Lewis has been running some informal workshop sessions on the concepts of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” These sessions illustrate how this personal productivity system can help alleviate stress caused by the modern day complexity of “work” and get people focussed and “in their zone” when they need to.

The sessions are a useful way to informally share personal experiences and tips/techniques between staff – an opportunity to openly discuss how people define, organise and then do their “work”. We all find our own systems to keep us organised and focussed, but we don’t necessarily tend to share the application of these.
There is great potential in continuing the learning in a virtual environment. Rob will be setting up an area on East Lothian Council’s e-learning webite – LearnNet – for HT’s and DHT’s who are interested in looking at the application of Getting Things Done and sharing their own tips and experiences with others in a similar role. LearnNet is a great medium for learning and development – it has some powerful support features for those accessing the material.

Our thanks to Rob for offering these valuable sessions – the feedback has been exceptional.

Leaders of Learning Network

I met a teacher today who has been applying for Principal teacher jobs without success.

One of the problems is that many jobs ask for leadership experience – but how do you get that experience if you’re not in a leadership position?

Many people manage to gain such experience by being in the right-place-at-the-right-time – i.e. they are lucky enough to get formal acting-up experience due to circumstances in their own school.  We’ve tried to address this at senior management level by opening out all such opportunities to external candidates but we can’t take it below that level due to the impact it would have on class teaching.

However, we’ve had a number of conversations recently which have stressed that ‘leadership’ is not something that is the sole preserve of people in ‘leadership’ positions. The question is whether or not we could come up with some kind of scheme for people who aspire to leadership positions in schools by linking a school-wide responsibility, which they might have volunteered for, with a formal leadership network?

For example, I might be leading a group on formative assessment in my school. By joining the network of “Leaders of Learning”, who lead learning and teaching groups in their own school, cluster or even authority wide, I have a recognised leadership position within the authority.  The network would meet regularly, have links to other groups and authority wide initiatives.

We could also provide specific training opportunities for the network which would link with the possibility of formal qualifications.

When applying for a promoted position in the authority I would have the formal recognition that I have held a leadership position – thereby addressing one of the dificulties so many people face by not being in the right-place-at-the-right-time.

I much prefer this kind of system to a fast tracking scheme – as the police use – as it’s inclusive and links nicely with our priority to share leadership and develop learning and teaching.

My only concern might be that some people might see this idea as getting people to take on leadership responsibilities on the cheap – is this exploitation?

Voluntary Teacher Exchange – “taking a chance”


I’ll be e-mailing all teachers in East Lothian in the next couple of days to relaunch our Voluntary Teacher Exchange programme. We hope to open this out to other members of staff at a later date.  I’d welcome any comments or queries regarding any of the following:



The Voluntary Teacher Exchange Programme evolved from a series of interviews with key members of East Lothian education service undertaken as part of the Exc-el programme.


The programme has the potential to:

1. Enable teachers to broaden their experience without making a permanent move to another school.

2. Spread good practice within East Lothian

3. Enhance/continue to improve the quality of teaching in schools in East Lothian.

4. Offer individually tailored packages of CPD to teachers.

5. Help teachers to investigate and experience areas of the profession which they might wish to develop, e.g. a support for learning teacher exchanging with a classroom teacher or a primary/secondary teacher exchanging workplaces.

6. Help teachers to develop their skills and reflect on their own teaching and learning.

7. Enable teachers who have maybe only worked in one school for a number of years to experience a different context.

8. It has the potential to refresh and invigorate participants.

Teacher Exchange – The Mechanics

1. All members of teaching staff (regardless of position) in East Lothian are eligible to apply for the Voluntary Teacher Exchange Programme. We may extend this opportunity to other members of staff at a later date.

2. Exchanges can extend from a single day to an academic year and can include exchanges between sectors, e.g. primary and secondary staff

3. Interested members of staff should receive the permission of their Headteacher prior to applying.

4. Applicants should complete and return the attached application form (in final version) to the department.

5. Where a Headteacher wishes to apply for an exchange they should contact the Head of Education directly.

6. The department will attempt to match up suitable exchange partners. 

7. If a teacher has a preferred echange partner they should indicate this on the application form. 

8. Where all parties, i.e. , teachers, headteachers and head of education, agree an exchange a series of pre-meetings and preparation briefings will take place.

9. The exchange will commence at the time agreed. Exchanges may be terminated by any of the parties (exchange partners or Headteachers) at any of the previously agreed review intervals, e.g. a three-month exchange might have review intervals on a fortnightly basis.

10. No travelling expenses or cover costs will be provided.

11. Exchange partners will continue on their existing pay and conditions of service.

12. A strict confidentiality clause will be inserted in the exchange agreement to protect exchange partners, colleagues, pupils and participating schools.

13. All exchange participants must submit a comprehensive report to the Head of Education at the end of their exchange to enable the programme to be developed and improved.

Leadership – Nature Vs Nurture or Nature Plus Nurture?

In a meeting this week we were exploring some of the essential criteria we might use for promoted posts such as Principal Teacher, Depute Head Teacher and Head Teacher.

For example –

Should anyone who wishes to become a Depute Head Teacher have been a Principal Teacher in more than one school?

Should a prospective Head Teacher have held promoted positions in more than one school?

Does someone have to have held a Depute Head Teacher’s post for a certain period of time before they can be considered for promotion to HT – e.g. three years?

The underlying assumption behind all of these possible criteria is that you cannot be regarded as being ready for promotion until you have “served your time” and “have experience of more than one school”. 

Some questions:

Does “serving time” in a promoted post really prepare people for the next step?

Does it mean that if I’ve done five years a Depute that I’m automatically ready for Headship?

What if the cut-off for consideration is three years and I’ve been in post 2 years and ten months – does two months make such a difference?

What if I’ve held a promoted post in a school where I’ve been given no autonomy by my Head Teacher – should that be the same as someone who has maybe taken on leadership responsibilities in another school but without being at the same promoted level?

All this takes me back to the title of this post Leadership – nature or nurture?

I do believe there are some innate traits which good leaders should have but that it’s not necessary to have the “full set”. – that’s where nurture comes in. Experience in a variety of posts does help – and can be considered essential in some cases – as long as the person is learning from these experiences.

We are relaunching our Exchange Programme next term where teachers/PTs/Deputes/ and HTs will be able to seek an exchange with a colleague in East Lothian in the coming session. Hopefully this will give some individuals who wish to broaden their experience the opportunity to do so within a nurturing environment.

(I’ll be exploring, in a separate post, what “experience” and why it might be a necessary criteria for job selection)

Link – nature versus nurture

Harvard Leadership Learning Log


Using the wonderful wordpress platform which David Gilmour so ably manages on our behalf I’ve had a go at setting up a Learning Log for the team which will be going out to Harvard in July.

Hopefully we can populate the log with lots of useful information and give people an insight into the course and what we are learning in the process.

As you might expect the Log is fairly empty at the moment – although I’ve put up my response to the two application questions which delegates have been asked to complete.