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?


Teachmeet is the ‘unconference’ approach to professional development in East Lothian. TeachMeet, involves short, sharp demonstrations of one technology, showing its whole potential in no more than seven minutes. The team then reverse engineer what went into the product of the teachers’ learning, leaving plenty of time to play and discover new skills. Crucially, they leave time at the end for planning to integrate the new skiills into the teachers’ learning and teaching.

You can catch up here with some of the outcomes of the recent Teachmeet held at Ross High School, Tranent, for primary and secondary teachers.

Who says you can’t have fun and learn at the same time?


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.

Extreme Learning – claims for competence

 Our Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) met yesterday for the second session on Learning and Teaching.  As I explained earlier this week we focussed upon Extreme Learning and experimented with the process and explored possible assessment models.

Reading the feedback it would appear that responses to the session are something of a curate’s egg – some people loved it and others felt confused and possibly exploited.

What did we do?

I introduced the session by reminding them of the purpose and rationale behind Extreme Learning. I then suggested that in they would hopefully gain something which they might employ in their own teaching – and not necessarily through using Extreme Learning.

It was a fine line to tread between giving the groups too much direction – which would result in uniformity of response – and enough direction so that they were clear about what they had to do.  The truth is – as I explained – that this was an experiment – where we were the participant researchers.

Each group (4/5 people) – which was cross sectoral – and had an observer who acted as the ‘metacognition’ for the group – was to select a research question and then provide an outline of how they would tackle this task if it were an Extreme Learning Project.  The groups had flip charts, pens and bluetack but no accesss to computers or any other resources.

In the introduction I explained how the four capacities would act a framework for the process – “we need to “do” some of these things in the course of our project”.  I also reinforced the point about Intellectual Challenge and the need for depth and breadth within their project. The teams had 90 minutes to complete the task before they posted their work on the walls.  I told the group we would be looking at assessment at the end of the 90 minutes but that assessment would focus upon the four capacities and the intellectual challenge.


How did we do?

It was apparent that they actually needed much more guidance than I had given about the way in which to construct a good research question.

The groups also needed more guidance about the assessment fromat – which we couldn’t do as it was to emerge as part of the process.

Some groups selected questions which were about education – such as transition from primary to secondary – this confused the issue as they were looking at how they could develop the four capacities as part of transition, yet the purpose of the project was to develop the four capacities in the writer of the project (through through the project process) – if you can follow that?

We proved that this paper-based approach towards starting an Extreme Learning Project can work – it is not dependent upon access to technology.

It was fascinating to see how the afternoon group did in  comparison to the morning groups – simply down to the fact that there were models on the wall which gave them an insight in to the task- the morning group were working blind.



How did we assess?

At the end of the 90 minutes the groups were asked to go round the room and reflect upon the other projects.

Using reference to the four capacities and intellectual challenge – they were asked to rank their own performance in relation to their peers (not to rank their peers), for example – “we ranked ourselves 3rd out of 9”.

They were also asked to identify three things they might do next time to improve their project.


What did we learn?

People who are going to try Extreme Learning projects would benefit from doing some sort of paper-based group exercise in the first instance.

There must be clear guidance – preferably with modelling – of what a ‘good’ research question looks like; how the project is to be assessed – they can’t go in blind which is what the NQTs really did.

Having access to exemplars – such as those around the walls – is of enromous benefit to the learning process – the on-line access of projects would facilitate this.

It emerged – particularly in the afternoon session that there might be an parallel between what NQTs have to do to gain ‘full registration with Genaral Teaching Council, Scotland, and assessing the four capacities.  The idea of “claims for competence” is a powerful one.

In other words, lets say I do a project – and I know that something I’m doing in the course of the project – let’s say intervewing old people at an old people’s home – links with being a confident individual and successful learner – I can make a “claim for competence” in that area.  My project provides the evidence partiucularl;y if my claim can be validated by peers and otheres (teachers, adults).

Intellectual Challenge was weell accepted by the group and it became apparent that many of the projects did not facilitate ‘depth’ in any way until it a suggested that this might be an isssue.  It was at this point that some groups said “well we could dig down into this particular aspect” – and that would appear to be the answer – depth does not need to be uniform within a project – but can be a specific focus within a broad peice of work.

“But what about plagiarism?” – I didn’t think this would be an issue oi we could focus upon the importance of the projects being about developing skills and knowledge and not the summative result.  If we can highlight that the only person to suffer by copying huge tracts of texts from other sources is the person doing the project then we would have made real progress.  Similarly the project which gets “done” by the parent would be thing of the past – however a child and parent could work together in a productive way but with the focus being on developing the four capacities of the learner.

Having access to on-line “real’ projects has enormous potential in providing a real Zone of Proximal Development which would engage and encourage learners to raise their ambitions and aspirations for their own work


The secondary school curriculm was highlighted as being too full to do anything like this.

“What about exam results- we can’t take risks like this” – what have we got to lose?- was my response.  The evidence from the recent cross-sectoral shadowing make disturbing reading – with both primary and secondary NQTs being amazed at the general levels of disengagement of secondary pupils in comarison to their younger peers – and that disengagement being directly related to what children are being asked to do in class and the structure of the curriculum.

“So many secondary teachers see Cuirriculum for Excellence to be another thing they have to add on to the curriculum as opposed to being enbedded within their practice” – perhaps the “claim for competence” approach has some merit here? – for example – if I’m teaching a lesson and I know that it will make certain demands oin the childernw chin  relate to the four capcities then I just need to be aware of this and don’t need to change anything. However, there may be other capacities which I never develop in my classroom because I don’t provide these sorts of opportunities through my teaching – the answer lies not in changing the curriculum but in how I structure the learnig process!!

“What about lack of access to ICT?” – we showed during the session that ICT is not necessary – ICT is only 5% of extreme Learning yet it holds the key to the ZPD, modelling and portfolio concepts. Most of the work can be done at home to follow up on the planning and dialogue which can take place at home. We need to explore how we support those few children who don’t have ICT assess at home.

“Would all the curriculum be delivered this way?” absolutely not – we must have a focus upon Disciplinary learning in our schools as well as process but some of the lessons for teachers in implementing Extreme Learning will undoubtedly lead to  changes in the way that even disciplinary learning takes place.

In understand the frustration of some of the NQTs who came along to the session expecting to be given something in terms of new information. Perhaps that’s the reality of Extreme Learning – it changes the relationship between teacher and learner in a fundamental way.

I am indebted to the positive way in which everyone engaged with the task on Thursday – I can only apologise if you felt exploited – that was certainly not our intention.


Edubuzz Open Meeting


We held an Edubuzz Open meeting this afternoon.

We made some key decisions:

Make use of the Edubuzz blog as the front page to the site as opposed to the current page (which we would aspire to in the future) –  we felt the current front page did not enable people to easily understand the purpose and background to Edubuzz, nor did it allow for easy access to blogs of particular interest, nor enable them to set up their own blog with ease.

Promote the edubuzz platform to teachers through: more direct promotion to Head Teachers – Ronnie Summers will make a brief presentation at our next HT conference; and more direct delivery sessions, such as Teach Meet, in schools; develop the Extreme Learning format which requires access to the platform; encourage blogging by probationers and students.

Organise a Saturday conference in the Autumn, probably at Musselburgh Grammar School.

Encourage a support more parental blogs

See Tess Watson, Lynne Lewis, Ollie Bray , Stewart Meldrum and Dave Cain for further insights