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 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

Extreme Learning Toolbox


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I spent an afternoon with David Gilmour exploring possible Extreme Learning templates.

It was interesting how we went about the task with some reference to my post yesterday about the Amundsen approach, i.e. we spent a lot of time considering at “what ifs?” and “how do we make it simple?” – this time was well spent as we made rapid progress thereafter.

What has proved useful is the time we’ve taken between playing around with some initial ideas and giving further consideration to the context of A Curriculum for Excellence.

The above sketch (David’s handy work) gives some indication of our direction of travel. If you can’t open the link by clicking on the sketch try it here – there are notes on the photo which you can access by moving the cursor over the photo.

We’ll be holding an open meeting in early May to give this fuirther shape and to set up some pilots for the coming session. If you need a reminder about the purpose/rationale of Extreme Learning check it out here.

Here is an outline – in linear form – of our emerging ideas.

  1. Learners will set up an exc-el blog as in the normal way – this will allow them to really personalise their own site.
  2. We will populate an Extreme Learning Toolbox which learners can use for guidance and to cut and paste infromation to their own site.
  3. On the toolbox we will place a screenshot movie with documentary by learners to talk their peers through the process.
  4. Learners will select a theme for their Extreme Learning Project
  5. The learner will select four learning windows/building blocks/curricular areas with which to view/consider their theme.
  6. The learner will identify the level of performance they aspire to in each area (we will set out learning outcomes in each area for each of the four levels)
  7. The learner completes 3 “mash-ups” where they will consider the connections between 2 areas and the theme being considered.
  8. Learners can keep an on-going learning log to chart and record their progress.
  9. People will be able to comment on all work as it progresses.
  10. The final stage involves the learner reflecting upon their learning by considering the how their experience has contributed to the development of their four capacities and their level of performance in relation to the selected curricular areas.

Journalist visit

I’ve been contacted by a journalist from the Times Education Supplement Scotland (TESS)

She made contact as TESS are going to be doing an article on such sites as Ratemyteacher; bebo; etc websites and what education authorities are doing in response.

I tried to explain the rationale behind our aproach to Exc-el but made it clear that we wish to educate children about appropriate use of web technologies as opposed to outright banning.

I also gave an outline about our approach towards blogs/learning logs and how they are contributing to the education process.

I’ve agreed to meet the journalist today (hopefully with some colleagues) in my office at 5.00pm. If you have any comments about how Exc-el is contributing to education in East Lothian (or further afield) then now’s your chance.

My only worry is that the article might focus on Ratemyteacher and miss the bigger point regarding our philosophy and practice.

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.

Exc-el Parental Roadshow


We held an Exc-el Open Group meeting this evening.

We discussed the permission forms which parents will be asked to sign to enable their children to participate and have their images displayed on school websites.

Christine – AKA guineapigmum – suggested that it would be good to speak to school boards about blogging/use of images/learning through the web.  The idea quickly developed into a Parental Roadshow which we intend to offer to each cluster group in the summer term. 

We thought me might be able to link this with the associated developments surrounding the Parental Involvement Bill

The evening might look something like this:

  • start with a presentation by teachers, parents and children relating to how they use the web.
  • Followed by a “come and try” session.
  • Rounded off by an opportunity for questions and answers

This might prove to be a popular event and enable schools to draw more parents into involvement whilst also reinforcing  cluster identity.

Who wants to go first?

Safe and outstanding practice


I’ve had a query from a teacher about the use of the web for educational purposes and the use of photographs including children.

Here’s what LTS have to say on creating and maintaining a school web site:

How safe is your website?
When creating a website the school is responsible for the care and the safety of every child. They must make sure that no child can be identified or contacted through the school website or as a result of someone visiting it. There should be no personal details such as names, e-mail addresses or telephone numbers. Try to put up photos of groups of children rather than an individual and don’t put their name beside it. You must get permission to use pupils’ photos or work, or to have their input on the website.

From this, we conclude that the main issue is that children must not be *identifiable*. The people who thought faces were unacceptable, We think, maybe made a wrong assumption about what this meant. It’s not the same as *recognisable*. As long as individuals aren’t identified, there’s no reason why faces of groups shouldn’t appear if parents accept it.
There may, of course, be cases where recognition is a risk – say if a family is in hiding. That’s a separate, and unusual, issue addressed by parental permission forms.

Today we’ve also checked what the “world’s largest internet safety organisation”, have to say on the subject. Their advice on use of children’s photos on web sites is here:

“So I recommend that a school use photos of children only after they get the parents’ consent, & only in groups of five or more. I also recommend that they not identify the children by name, only by the group: “Ms. Smith’s fourth grade class” or the “Volleyball Club,” for instance. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. We’d never let anyone post our child’s photo on a highway billboard, would we? We need to think of the Internet as a giant billboard posted on the largest superhighway in the world. If we wouldn’t allow something about our children to appear there, we shouldn’t allow it to be posted online.”

Bottom line is, they think the same as LTS.

In education, we have a duty to balance risks against educational benefits, just like we do when we take our children on the roads. In this case there is good evidence that publishing photos on the web has educational benefits, such as improving engagement, encouraging parental/family involvement, and improving school/community links.

We also have a duty to help children develop their own internet safety knowledge, by learning how to manage those risks. At primaries in particular, there’s an opportunity to teach these skills at an early stage, before they start using MySpace, Bebo etc. This is an increasingly important life skill.

An excellent example of a school web site can be found at the Pencaitland Primary School site. It is an outstanding model of the kind of practice LTS and are recommending and the staff at the school are to be congratulated for such leading edge and responsible practice.

Thanks to David Gilmour for helping with this post. We are working on detailed guidelines for schools.

Exc-el – a worldwide resource?

I received these posts from Hilary Holt – the message says everything – Over to you David

Subject: information please!
Date: Sat 20/1/07 6:47 PM
From: “Hilary Holt”
I read a reference on your blog that the East lothian site had information by Maureen Grainger and Claire Sime of Educational Psychology Service  summarising educational theories.
I have looked at the site but could not find this information…I wondered if you could give me more details.  I am researching information to help a friend who is currently studying a NVQ level 4 Child development
best wishes
Hilary Holt

Subject: Re:  information please!
Date: Sun 21/1/07
From: “Ledingham, Don” <>
The link is
I hope this helps

Subject: Re:  information please!
Date: Sun 21/1/07 7:47 PM
From: “Hilary Holt”
To: “Don Ledingham”
Many thanks for such a speedy response! It is an excellent site, but I
wonder if your webmaster could add some more tags so that a wider audience
would find it…though maybe that’s not what it has been designed for.
I am living in Portugal where I used to teach and it is difficult to get
much information apart from on-line!
best wishes
Hilary Holt

Extreme Learning Update

We reconvene our Extreme Learning Group in late February.

Over the last couple of months we’ve been playing around with an on-line Extreme Learning project. Hopefully this will be completed by the time we meet but it has been useful in enabling us to try out the theory and smooth out some of the technical and educational challenges presented by the concept.

I recently met with David Gilmour – our Exc-el guru – to explore the development of Extreme Learning templates. The idea would be that we can set up a variety of templates which pupils could use to give shape to their project and be tailored to their ability – differentiation in action!  The obvious progression is to make the templates gradually more dependent upon the pupil’s judgement and expertise but to provide a fairly closed environemnt for the first attempt.

By the time of our next meeting we hope to set these templates up and be ready to try them out with a variety of pilot groups of learners in schools and community groups.  If you think you would like to work with a group of learners on a voluntary Extreme Learning Project drop me a line.