Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself – George Bernard Shaw

So the die is cast. I’ve submitted my resignation and started the countdown to a new career which will start on 1st August 2013.

I have accepted an invitation to join Drummond International as Director of Innovation Leadership. The opportunity to work with Norman Drummond and the rest of the team at DI is one which was impossible to turn down.

Norman’s work is founded upon three profound questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why are you living and working in the way that you are?
  3. What might you yet become and do with your life?

The answer to why I’m taking this next step is centred somewhere in my own response to these questions.

 Who am I?

I am fundamentally a teacher. I’ve come to realise that I gain the greatest satisfaction from working directly with people and helping them to develop their knowledge, skills, confidence or whatever the purpose of that interaction might be – not in a didactic or instructional manner but through engaging them and encouraging them to see and maximise their own potential.

Why am I living and working and working in the way that I am?

As my career has progressed I’ve gradually moved further and further away from that direct connection with people. My roles have become increasingly corporate, strategic and my responsibilities diverse. It’s interesting to reflect on my original motivation for seeking positions of responsibility was linked to my desire to change the system. By taking on management roles I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to influence policy and practice at a local and national level in a way which would have been impossible had I simply remained as a teacher. Nevertheless, this journey has taken me away from the very things which give me the greatest satisfaction – hence the need to refocus my career on the things which matter most to me.

What might I yet become and do with the rest of my life?

This is an exciting question for someone of my years. Rather than considering the notion of winding down towards the end of a career – this is a question which liberates the spirit to consider the future in a positive and fulfilling manner. It opens doors on opportunities, and challenges you to consider the skills and abilities you have and whether these could be put to better use in other ways.

I actually reckon my skill set is quite narrow and is connected to my ability to inspire, encourage, and develop others. What I want to do with the rest of my life is use these skills to their absolute maximum.

I suppose I unwittingly touched upon this in my most recent article on Leadership Legacy where I described the impact my father made upon other people. If this sounds selfish and self indulgent then I stand guilty but I suppose I’d like to spend the next 15 years of my life making a similar personal and positive impact on people’s lives.

My new role will also give me the opportunity to concentrate upon my connected passions of education, innovation and leadership. I hope to be able to research, reflect and write about these areas with a view to making a positive contribution to these fields of study and practice, and use my accumulated knowledge and related life experiences to make a corresponding contribution to society.

My other new career goal is to establish The Scottish Leadership Trust, a not- for-profit organisation that will promote and integrate values-based leadership within and across Scotland’s public, private and voluntary sectors.

The objectives of the Scottish Leadership Trust will be:

  1. To champion the importance of values-based leadership development for the future well-being of Scottish society.
  2. To share and promote leadership expertise across the public, private and voluntary sectors.
  3. To provide a national forum for promoting cross-sector leadership development.
  4. To promote a vision of leadership that is jargon free, inspirational, enabling of innovation, and supportive of our national aspirations.
  5. To reinvest any profits into voluntary sector leadership development programmes and advice.

This project is very much a long-term ambition but it would be my dream to be involved in the Scottish Leadership Trust in fifteen years time – when I’m seventy years old – although I should add (as my grandmother used to say when looking forward in time) – “If I’m spared”.


Steve Munby recently spoke at our East Lothian Learning Festival and told a story about when he swapped roles with a teacher when he was Director of Education for Knowlsley Council, in Merseyside.  The idea appealed to me and I rashly offered a job swap on Twitter – never imagining that anyone would take up the offer.

You can imagine my dismay when my bluff was called and Pam Currie a Depute Headteacher from Law Primary School asked me if I’d like to come and teach her Primary One class of 25 five year olds. Hoist by my own petard I had no option but to agree and so we arranged for me to come to the school last Friday to teach for the morning.

We met the week before and Pam ran through the programme of work that I would be expected to cover: PE, Music, Numeracy, and Storytime.  As we chatted about the Autumn theme that the class are working on I suggested that the PE class could be a dance lesson using actual leaves, and that the numeracy lesson could make use of the same leaves in an outdoor context.

During the week prior to my visit my most important task was to collect enough dried leaves of sufficient variety to provide a stimulus for the lesson.

Now I hadn’t taught a dance lesson for something approaching 17 years – and hadn’t taught a primary class for closer to 30 years – but I suppose teaching is a bit like riding a bike.  It felt great to get back into the classroom and connecting with young people again. The kids responded brilliantly to the leaves and as I tipped the sack out onto the floor they loved the sounds, smells and colours.  We experimented with holding different leaves and letting them fall to the ground – and then trying it again with a different kind of leaf. Then we explored how we might copy the movement of the falling leaf with our own bodies.

Then we looked at how leaves are affected by the wind. Using a fan heater we blew a light breeze towards a pile of leaves and looked at how they rustled – a child came up with a great Scottish word when he said the leaves were “shoogling”. We then tried to copy the rustling leaves while I gently shook a tambourine.

The third stage was to ask the children to blow their own leaf as hard as the could across the floor. Once again we copied that movement with our bodies.

The final stage was to look at how leaves formed piles, where the leaves lay one on top of another in different shapes.  This was the riskiest part of the lesson where children could have been jumping on top of each other but they handled the task superbly and moved into the piles in a very convincing and safe manner.

The last part of the lesson was to put all of these movements together into a final performance.  I think the lesson was recorded so I’d hope to put a link here to youtube whenever it’s put up.

I’d gone into the jobswap with the intention of having fun – and without a doubt that key criterion was satisfied throughout the whole day. But what did I learn?

Firstly, teaching is an exhausting business.  The teacher is constantly having to be attentive – there are no points when you can switch off and let the children get on with things while you do your own work. This is reinforced when the range of needs is as varied as it was in my class.

Secondly, lesson preparation is crucial to engaging the children in the learning process – I’d put a fair bit of work into planning for the morning – but what must it be like planning for an entire week?

Thirdly, the school staff work as a team.  The staged assessment meeting I attended at 8.30, where six teachers talked about a single child’s needs, was hugely impressive and reassuring. The morning break showed that team spirit in a different way where pink cakes were on offer in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness and every member of staff wore pink.

Fourthly, I saw 100 children engaged in a break-time aerobics session being led by P7 pupils – a wonderful example of children being supported and encouraged to do it for themselves!

Fifthly, I saw teachers who cared about learning; who cared about young people; and who cared about each other.  A humbling and inspirational experience which will stay with me for a long time.

Law Primary School – thank you.




Midlothian Council – Director of Education and Children’s Services

Midlothian Council has appointed me as Director of Education and Children’s Services until 31 December 2012. I will also continue in my role as Executive Director at East Lothian Council.

I feel exceptionally privileged to be given the opportunity to build upon the legacy of Donald MacKay.   Donald and I are quite different individuals in terms of personality but having worked so closely together over the past few years it has become apparent that we share the same fundamental values which place the needs of children and people at the centre of our work.

Throughout my career I have adopted an open and transparent approach to my work and it will be my priority to meet as many of my new colleagues as possible over the next four months.

My personal objectives for the job are simple and can be captured in three simple statements:

  1.  To enable Midlothian and East Lothian to become the most improved Local Authorities in Scotland in terms of outcomes for children and young people;
  2.  To build our services around the idea of creating resilient individuals – children, families, communities, employees, leaders, teams, schools and organisations – who can successfully sustain themselves in times of adversity and uncertainty; and
  3.  To build our success upon the quality of our people, our creativity, and our relationships with others.
I’m excited by this unique opportunity and look forward to working with so many exceptional colleagues in both authorities.















Five years ago I thought I’d recorded my  earliest sighting/hearing of a Skylark .

That  was  until today.

Collective Social Concience

This morning I watched driver after driver try to make way for an ambulance. It flitted through my mind that we don’t see too many visible examples of collective social conscience in modern society.

It made me wonder if we are motivated in such circumstances by something more than just simple compliance with the law? Could it be empathy, or to do with the fact that we know that one day it could be us, or one of our family?

Which triggered another question – are we motivated by the same thing when we get out the way of police car?

All Black Magic

Gill and Richie McCaw by Don Ledingham

We met Richie McCaw a couple of years ago when out visiting our son who was playing rugby in Christchurch.

He was a really genuine bloke who belied the notion that all top sportspeople are only interested in themselves.

I was so pleased to see him lift the World Cup trophy this morning – albeit after an incredibly close match.  It means so much to our Kiwi friends who must have been watching the game through their fingers.

I’ve always had an affinity for the All Blacks ever since I played against them for the South of Scotland.  I’m afraid to admit that we huddled down around our own 22m line when they performed their Haka – a bit different from how the French faced up to it today.

It’s funny how that memory has stayed with me ever since and has probably helped me more than once to accept a challenge in a direct and respectful manner.



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

Resuming a journey

One year can pass very quickly! 

On my return I thought it might be worthwhile  repeating what I said a few years ago about the purpose and benefits of keeping a Learning Log.

A “Learning Log” can be captured in a relatively simple tri-colon:

“Where you’ve been; where you are; and where you’re going”.

I’m not talking here of travel in any sort of geographical sense, but more about the journey which relates to opinions, ideas and perceptions.

A Learning Log imposes a discipline upon the reflective process, which, although it may be going on informally, or tacitly, all of the time, can often be lost in the ‘clutter’ which forms much of our daily, weekly and monthly work.

The Learning Log gives me that brief – and ever more valuable, opportunity to step outside and look back upon my practice and direction of travel.

The reflective power of the on-line Learning Log is magnified when the contribution of others’ comments is taken into consideration. The Learning Log therefore provides an invaluable strategic map, in that enables me to retrace my steps and see where I’ve come from, identify where I am at any one point in time and, hopefully, enables me to explore the future in a relatively safe environment.

The other, incredibly useful role for the Learning Log is that it enables me to see connections between various things that I’m doing that might not be apparent if they were contained within their normal silos.  For me it’s this connecting function that helps me to make sense of some the very disparate things that I do in my day-to-day work.

If this seems focused upon the personal benefits of keeping a learning log then that has been deliberate – the benefit of a Learning Log to other people is very much dependent upon the reader’s perception – whilst at the same time modelling the kind of transparency which I believe should be characteristic of modern public service systems.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Scottish Physical Education Profession

I was invited to speak at yesterday’s  National Conference on Physical Education in Scotland held at Edinburgh University.

After an initial preamble, where I indulged myself with a few personal reminiscences, I set out what I thought to be the some of the main challenges and opportunities facing the profession.  As I explained at the conference there is a huge challenge to be faced by all of us in education relating to the fallout from the recession and associated reductions in public service budgets.  I will not focus upon these here as I regard that to be an essentially non-productive line of enquiry – as opposed to focusing upon those things that we can change and over which we can actually have some control.

Here they are in no particular order of priority: (please note that  these challenges and opprtunities are not intended to be an exhaustive list)



There is a danger that the profession see the target of 2 hours of high quality physical education as a charter for the profession – as opposed to an entitlement for children and young people.  If we narrow the definition of high quality to be only something which can only be delivered by qualified PE teachers then it unnecessarily limits the huge potential support we can gain from others who have much to offer, e.g. primary class teachers.


I was once described as a “radical traditionalist” and was flattered by such an imaginative and oxymoron-ish sobriquet. I believe there is much to be gained from reference to the values and standards which can be characterised as “traditional”.  However, if “traditionalism” is simply used as an excuse to limit children’s experiences to what the teacher feels comfortable with then it becomes a significant barrier to progress.


The concept of 2 hours of high quality physical education is based upon a premise/assumption that children’s lives will be enhanced by exposure to such an experience.  If the profession take such a time allocation for granted  and does not engage in enhancing the quality, then it may be that at some later date – when research evidence possibly suggests that there has been no positive impact upon children’s lives – that some other alternative mechanism for improving the health and well being of children is devised, which may not depend to the same extent upon the profession.

Guidance reliance:

Arguably the  physical education profession has seen Guidance teaching to be a route for progression.   Whether one agrees with this or not there is a strong likelihood that the future of Guidance provision in Scotland will change radically over the next ten years.  If this does happen then many in the profession, who would have previously seen this to be there preferred route ,may have to look elsewhere.


I’ve written before about the “mile-wide, inch deep” phenomenon. Such an arrangement runs counter to the principle of “deep learning” which underpins curriculum for excellence. 


Has the profession unwittingly excluded a large number of children by seeing the core programme as being a precursor to the thing that really matters, i.e. the certificated programme?

Risk Averse:

Where are the thinkers, the writers, the innovators in the profession?  If they are out there they are silent!


Learning and Teaching

In the 1980’s Physical Education was the one of the leading subject areas when it came to analysis, experimentation and development of teaching and learning approaches. This focus, exemplified by Muska Mosston’s spectrum of teaching styles , enabled PE teachers in Scotland to reflect upon their practice as never before. 

Yet in the last decade the subject area has been remarkably silent as Assessment is for Learning and other associated developments have been mainly located in other subject areas, and the primary sector in particular.

It would seem to that there is a significant opportunity or the Physical Education profession to drive forward practice by engaging and promoting their pedagogy using the wide range of contexts available to them within the subject.  I see no particular obstruction to the profession taking on a leading role in pedagogical development and sharing this expertise with other teachers and subject areas .

Sport and the Community:

Over the next decade the boundary between school and community will become blurred.  As schools possibly become more accountable to their communities the importance of sport and extra-curricular activity will be increased.  There will be an opporunity for forward looking departments to engage much more closely with community sports groups to provide an integrated sport and physical activity programme which meets the needs of the young people and the community.

Leadership and Management:

In previous generations many Physical Education teachers progressed to management positions either due to their organisational abilities, or through their ability to engage positively with young people which often led to management positions in Guidance.

Yet in the new millennium high quality teaching and learning within the Physical Education environment is an excellent  preparation for developing the skills and aptitudes necessary for a successful leader and manager within the wider world of education. If aligned with an intellectual rigour in terms of reflecting upon that practice and an associated capacity to modify one’s practice accordingly then Physical Education teachers should be well placed to make a significant contribution to the leadership of Scottish Education.


Physical Education teachers should have a well developed knowledge of the stages of child development and be able to relate that to their practice and the associated curricular programme. By sharing their expertise with primary class teachers and working in close association with primary schools it should be possible for PE to be a principal contributor to the concept of a coherent 3-18 educational experience as articulated within Curriculum for Excellence. This aspect has particular resonance in relation to promoting health and well being as a lifelong habit.

The key to capitalising upon this opportunity will be to look beyond what has traditionally been the limits of responsibility for secondary school Physical Education teachers. 

Deep Learning:

There are huge opportunities for the Physical Education profession to enable young people to experience the joy of “deep learning”. Nevertheless, this will require significant change to the current way in which the curriculum is structured and offered in schools.


Physical Education could become much more inclusive of it could shift from it’s current focus on preparing young people for the certificated curriculum.  Make it the goal that every child that comes through your door achieves and feels positively about themselves and their relationship with physical activity and sport and you will have much to share with the rest of the educational world.


Take risks with your practice;  imagine and implement; read, research and reflect;  write and engage in dialogue;  stand up and speak out; but above all make good use of the incredible flexibility which is afforded through a Curriculum for Excellence.