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.”

Educational Learning Log Awards 2008

The moral of the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant is that each of the blind men has a different perspective on what an elephant is – depending on which part of the elephant they are touching.

In many ways the various interest groups involved in education can behave as “blind men” as they tend to only “see” the parts they can touch.

I believe that only by sharing our own perspective and also taking account of others’ perspectives can we begin to properly understand the “elephant” that is education. 

For the purposes of this competition a Learning Log will be defined as any personal on-line space where a person uses Web 2.0 technology to share their perspective on the education process and engages in a dialogue with a wider audience.

To qualify as a learning log the person must engage in some reflection of their own experiences. John Dewey’s assertion sets out the definition even more clearly:

“We only learn from experience…………..if we reflect upon experience”

Is it a Learning Log?

Here are ten questions you might like to consider when judging the quality of a Learning Log:

  • Does the person reflect upon their own experiences?
  • Does the person reflect upon their own effectiveness?
  • Does the person explore a range of issues connected to education?
  • Does the person demonstrate a capacity to make use of others’ blogs/logs to enhance their own thinking?
  • Does the person engage with those who comment on their Log?
  • Does the person demonstrate a capacity to link back to previous posts to show progress in their thinking?
  • Does the person refer to research or other evidence to support their perspectives?
  • Does the person have a capacity to explore alternatives to current practice?
  • Does the person introduce readers to new resources?
  • Does……? (please suggest other criteria)

I’d welcome nominations for Learning Logs for the following perspectives: 


Doug Belshaw – from the perspective of a teacher at an English secondary school.

John Johnston – from the perspective of a teacher at a Scottish primary school. 2

Neil Winton – From the perspective of an English teacher, Perth, Scotland

Gilbert Halcrow from Hong Kong – articulate, reflective, provocative, lively. 1

       Specialist staff

Alan Coady – from the perspective of a guitar teacher 3


Mumble – from the perspective of an early years child’s parent. 1

Guineapigmum – from the perspective of a high school parent. 2

       School Leaders/managers

Mark Walker – from the perspective of a primary school principal in Melbourne, Australia 3

Ollie Bray – Depute, Geographer and, in the words of the late, great Ken Campbell, a Seeker. 1

Donald MacDonald– from the perspective ofa secondary school head teacher in Edinbburgh, Scotland


Essentially a primary school category, this really boils down to the collaborative relation between teacher and pupils and the joie de vivre evident in the work – Campie PS – P6b (Miss Collins) 1


Anne Johnston – from the perspective of a school librarian 2



Law Primary School – for trailblazing and for “the proof of the pudding” in their recent excellent HMIe report.


Ewan McIntosh – from the perspective of public service media 3

Sarah Ebner – from the schoolgate on the Time on-line



John Connell – from the perspective of technology in learning and teaching. 4

        Local Authority/District education leaders

Greg Whitby – from the perspective of a district administrator in Sydney, Australia 2

Niel Rochelle – from the perspective of a school superintendent, East Aurora, New York, USA 3

       National/District/Local support staff

I’d also like to nominate Mick Burns for his blog Careers

       National government staff 

I’m happy to accept nominations and votes from any country drop me an e-mail

I’ll keep a running total of votes against each nomination.

Please feel free to suggest other perspectives. (* indicates nominated perspectives)

I’m not sure if there will be any prizes (unless there are any sponsors out there?)

Nominations and votes will close on the 10th December.



2008 Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership

I was invited to speak at the 2008 Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership being held in Edinburgh this week at  the prestigious Surgeon’s Hall.

The event follows the Harvard model – which I attended last year.

Today’s programme focused upon Leadership for Learning. I was one of a panel of four who presented our own personal insights into how we operate as “Leaders of Learning”. It was a challenge to keep to the ten minute limit so I opted to simply describe how this Learning Log and my School Visits programme have contributed to my own and the authority’s development.

I enjoyed listening to my colleagues on the panel and was particularly intrigued when Karen Prophet(Headteacher at Firrhill High School) described how they have moved away from a punishment/sanction based behaviour management system – it chimed with one of my recent posts

The Summer School is a very worthwhile addition to the Scottish educational landscape and I’m sure it will continue to evolve over the next few years into a learning opportunity with an international reputation.

I’ll be checking out the Summer School Blog to see how the programme unfolds.


“The dialectic of possible worlds”


I felt enormously privileged today to be able to attend the Tapestry Conference in Glasgow to hear Jerome Bruner give a spellbinding performance.

For a man born in 1915 (93 years ago) he displayed humour, warmth and humility which would bely most men half his age – quite aside from his iconic intellect. In what was a wide ranging personal perspective on “A Curriculum for Excellence” he flitted through the decades, continents and historical fugures which whom he has engaged.

The strand to which he kept returning throughout his 50 minutes was the need for teachers to engage children in real thought by encouraging them to challenge and ask the tough questions – not just those which are part of the agreed syllabus.

He urged us to reflect upon controversy through a dialectic:

Dialectic (Greek) is controversy: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue.

In contrast to Piaget, Bruner has always fought shy of the stages of development and believes that children of any age can participate in such dialogue to make meaning of their world.

However, it was his phrase “The dialectic of the possible worlds” which struck such a chord with me.  I suppose in my own small way I am trying through this Learning Log to explore opposite worlds.  Through the power of the web it can become a dialectic which leads – at the very least – to a transformation in the direction of my own dialogue.

Given my last post about the Dark Forces – I think it’s vitally important that we encourage and support teachers to explore opposite worlds in terms of their own practice and the nature of the curriculum and then participate in a professional dialogue about these possibilities. Without such a dialogue we are trapped by dependency culture created by centralised teaching programmes of study and curricular materials.

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?

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.


Agile Software Developments


One of the delights of keeping a Learning Log are the comments and suggestions you receive from other people.

And so it was when Kenneth McLaughlin left a comment on one of my recent posts.

Kenneth pointed us in the direction of Agile Software Developments:

The modern definition of agile software development evolved in the mid 1990s as part of a reaction against “heavyweight” methods, as typified by a heavily regulated, regimented, micro-managed use of the waterfall model of development. The processes originating from this use of the waterfall model were seen as bureaucratic, slow, demeaning, and inconsistent with the ways that software engineers actually perform effective work.

I was fascinated to read about the Agile model of development as I think it corresponds, in many ways, to how we are trying to take things forward education in East Lothian.

Without access to the Learning Log such a link could never have been made and an opportunity of reflecting upon our practice would not have emerged. It’s this kind of lateral engagement with other fields of study and enterprise that can help education to break free from some of the more traditional development models which have so singularly failed to bring about productive change.

So farewell Exc-el.


We had very useful Exc-el Open meeting this evening.

Look out for our forthcoming skype (or equivalent) conference – Ollie Bray will be setting this up – participants are welcome.

For me one of our most significant decisions was to move from to during the Easter break.

I was personally fond of Exc-el as it’s been with us from the start of this development which started nearly two and half years ago. Exc-el (which stood for Excellence in East Lothian) was maybe a bit cheesy but I remember coming up with the name driving over Soutra one wet and windy evening and thinking it was very clever. Anyway – we’ve decided – and I wholeheartedly agree – that it’s not the most user friendly name and edubuzz more accurately reflects what we are trying to do. 

With over 660 bloggers and nearly 4000 visits a day to Exc-el (soon to be edubuzz) sites, we are really on a point of take off.  We are committed to the concept which drives open source software in that everything we do is open to colleagues in other authorities – or countries for that matter – and hope to share our ideas and practice as widely as possible. I think the following extract from the Wikipedia definition says it all:

The open source model of operation can be extended to open source culture in decision making which allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial companies.

“Open source” as applied to culture defines a culture in which collective decisions or fixations are shared during development and made generally available in the public domain- – – as seen with Wikipedia. This collective approach moderates ethical concerns over a “conflict of roles” or conflict of interest. Participants in such a culture are able to modify the collective outcomes and share them with the community.

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.