Naive – compliment or insult?

If someone describes you as naive should you be pleased or insulted?

I thought it might be worthwhile referring to the dictionary for the definition and synonyms.

I’ve emboldened those terms which lead me to believe that, on balance, it’s a compliment.

The scorecard reads 25 positive against 22 negative.

Perhaps we need more naive people in the world?

Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: childlike, trusting
Synonyms: aboveboard, artless, callow, candid, confiding, countrified, credulous, forthright, frank, fresh, green*, guileless, gullible, harmless, ignorant, impulsive, ingenuous, innocent, innocuous, instinctive, jejune, lamb, like a babe in the woods, natural, open, original, patsy, plain, simple, simple-minded, sincere, spontaneous, square, sucker, unaffected, unjaded, unpretentious, unschooled, unsophisticated, unsuspecting, unsuspicious, untaught, unworldly, virgin, wide-eyed.

“Them” Vs “Us”

 “THEM” Vs “US”

I reckon one of the greatest challenges facing Scottish education is the way in which people use the third person plural in a negative sense.

Listen to any conversation about education and very soon “they” will emerge as the problem. So teachers will talk about “them” (management), management will talk about “them” (teachers and the local authority) and those in the local authority will talk about “them” (schools and the government).

Of course there are many others groups who can be characterised as “them” – children, parents, IT managers, unions, finance departments, politicians, social workers, doctors, the media – “if only “they” could do their jobs properly then all would be well”.

By externalising the problem we strengthen our allegiance to our own group – “we need to work together or “they” will ……….” Yet what is fascinating is how it’s possible to move (i.e. through promotion) from being one of “us” to one of “them” and also start to think about those whom were recently your colleagues as “them”. I’m not suggesting here that such language is always used in an adversarial sense but that it demarcates and emphasises that the difference between groups.

In many ways it’s natural to refer to any group beyond our own as “them”. So much of our own self-esteem is wrapped up in our social identity where we categorise others and ourselves – often comparing ourselves favourably towards other groups.

Yet are the various groups motivated by such unique and self-contained  drivers? Surely there are more points of overlap in our interests than there are differences?

That’s why I’m going to:

  • a) stop using any negative reference to “they” or “them” in any conversation
  • b) challenge people to clarify what they mean whenever they use the second person plural in a negative sense.

I tried b) for the first time today and just by challenging a stereotypical view of another group seemed to help produce a more positive discussion rather than just simply nodding when an entire group of people were swept up in the accusatory “them”.

I know this sounds a bit optimistic but I’d like to replace “they” and “them”, wherever possible, with “us” and “we”.

Last point – we in Scotland have another form of colloquial second person plural, namely “yous” – but that’s for another day!

“You never leave the Villa”


“You never leave the villa” – so said Andy Thorpe, manager of the Lothian Villa, a residential home for challenging and vulnerable teenagers in East Lothian. I was privileged to visit the “Villa” a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to write up my experiences since that time.

What Andy means by “You never leave the Villa” is that it becomes part of you and you become part of it.  This chimed for me with the ideas which I came across during my visit to the U.S last year when Norman Kunc talked about belonging . For fostering a sense of belonging in these children is at the very heart of what they do at the Villa – this is demonstrated by the fact that adults, who were in the school years ago, still return to their “home” to speak to staff and keep in touch.

A lot of the work being done in the Villa is based upon the work of Sally Wassell and attachment theory – I’m doing more reading in this area at the moment so won’t go into any detail save to say that I think it forms a rich resource for all of us involved in the care and education of children and young people.

The Villa – in Andy’s words – provides “emotional nutrition” for kids who have often been emotionally malnourished throughout their lives. “They deserve the best” and the Villa sets out to provide it.  I spoke to some of the kids and was blown away by how positive they were about the place and the way that they are treated. Yet don’t get the idea that this is a soft regime – quite the opposite in fact – “We care enough about you not to let you be out of control” is a characteristic which permeates the collective approach. They “love” the kids and “tough love” seems to be something to which the young people readily repond.

I had an interesting chat with Andy about how they deal with extreme behaviour – which can at times be violent.  He explained how they often have different consequences for the same behaviour – this intrigued me as schools so often get trapped by having to be “fair” when dealing with misbehaviour by always matching a certain consequence with a certain from of behaviour – i.e. if a pupil swears at a teacher they must be excluded. Andy explained that their consistency comes through judging the reasons behind the behaviour and that consequence will be consistent for the person. 

It was a humbling experience visiting the Villa and seeing a group of people who are so fully committed to an approach.  Andy is a remarkable leader and has developed a culture where everyone valued and seen as a part of the family – staff and children. So often “Children’s Homes” are associated to negative connotations but I found it an enriching environment which is changing lives for the better.

I recommend a visit!!

A Mission


Over the last 6 weeks I’ve been doing two jobs – the Head of Education and Director of Education and Children’s Services.  We appointed my successor this week in the form of Maureen Jobson, who is the Manager of our Learning and Teaching Team. Maureen is everything I’m not – methodical, practical and reliable. She uses her experience of having been the Head Teacher of three schools to great effect and is highly regarded by all her colleagues.

Effective teams so often depend upon a mix of complimentary skills and Maureen’s skill set will definitely keep me on track and stop some of my more extreme flights of fancy with her no nonsense Sunderland rebuff.

With her appointment I’ve been able to give more thought to what I really want to achieve as Director. It’s possible to let such a big job overwhelm your sense of purpose and for it to become a management post where you simply try to keep the “oil tanker” afloat and on course. Yet as I’ve been giving this more thought the words from our Learning and Teaching policy keep bouncing back into my mind.  Unconditional Positive Regard can sound like any other jargonsitic phrase yet I believe that it should underpin everything we do with young people.

I’ve explored the definition of the term before on this log but it might be worth going over it again and giving it my own twist. Unconditional Positive Regard means that you don’t give up on kids – whatever they do. In many ways it helps to reflect upon the concept from a parental perspective.  If one of my sons did something wrong I would challenge their behaviour, chastise them, and try to help them understand why it was wrong and what the better alternative might have been. But just because they did something wrong did not mean that I was going to treat them any differently from my other son – my love was unconditional.

It took me some time as a teacher to come to terms with this approach – I remember belting kids (corporal punishment) when I first became a teacher, of getting really angry and just wanting kids who misbehaved to be removed from my class. I can’t exactly remember when my attitude changed but I do know that when I shifted from a “conditional” approach to an “unconditional” approach that the response I got from children was incredibly different and the impact that I had a teacher was transformed.

In the last three years I’ve been trying to promote the concept of unconditional positive regard within our Learning and Teaching Policy and it has had some limited impact.  The majority of those involved in education adopt it as their natural approach and you can spot them straight away. Yet for others this idea is something of an anathema – “I’m not paid to like children” was perhaps one the more memorable rejoinders, or the classic “I’m not a bloody social worker”. In other words some people in education feel that they are only there to work with those who want to be there – the rest should be removed from their presence. Well unfortunately there are lots of kids who don’t want to be there. Kids who have to put themselves to bed, who have to witness things at home which they shouldn’t have to witness, kids for whom the very act of getting to school is an achievement.

It is to my great shame that I can recall a science teacher I managed who regularly called a child in his class a “moron”. He felt he was justified in using this word as it accurately described the child’s behaviour – he certainly saw no need to apologise. Yet this same child could go into the class down the corridor and be one of the most enthusiastic and motivated kids in the class. So what did I do about it? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! I rationalised this at the time by saying to myself that it would just make the kid’s life even harder – and it came to the point where we removed the child from the class for his own protection as he would aggressively respond to the demeaning way he would be treated by the teacher to the point where he would be excluded or punished.

So what does all this mean for my new job? Well I think it means that I’m not going to walk away from this any more. I’m going to make it explicit that it will be my expectation that the behaviour of every person employed within Education and Children’s Services can be characterised by a commitment to unconditional positive regard.  I don’t intend to issue blanket edicts or constant memos but I do intend to tackle individuals, regardless of position, who come to my attention as having not treated a child in a manner which is underpinned by unconditional positive regard.

I might be wrong but I think this simple message repeated, and consistently and insistently upheld has the potential to have an exceptionally powerful impact upon the lives of children, families and the culture of Education and Children’s Services in East Lothian.

“And what if people don’t treat kids with unconditional positive regard?”

Then they are in the wrong job!

A Warm and Fuzzy Tale

 HipwomanOnce upon a time I was told a story by Alastair Torrance – another of my former colleagues from Selkirk High School.  Alastair told me about A Warm and Fuzzy Tale – you need to read it! The basic idea is that we all have an endless supply of “Warm Fuzzies” to give to other people which make them feel warm and fuzzy. However, the reality is that some of our conditioning means we are happier giving out “cold pricklies” – which obviously make people feel cold and prickly.

And so it was on Friday that Stewart McKinnon passed on a “Warm Fuzzy” when he described his recent visit to Meadowpark Unit for children with severe and complex needs.  He was asking some parents about how they knew that their children enjoyed school, especially as some of them have very severe communication problems.  The answer was stunningly simple and yet so powerful:

“We have to hide their school clothes on Saturday or they will want to go to school”

Now that was a real warm fuzzy!!

TESS Article 6 – The Cheesecounter Effect


One of the things that schools sometimes fail to appreciate is just how intimidating they can be, especially secondary schools. We all have our memories of school, and for those of us in the teaching profession they are, for the most part,   likely to be positive recollections. Yet when you speak to some parents you begin to realise that the fortress mentality, which many schools strive to overcome, remains such a massive obstacle.

So when I became a headteacher in my own right I was determined to continue the approach that I’d encountered at my previous school. In my first few weeks I visited many homes to talk to parents and children in their own environment – as opposed to the headteacher’s lair. Such visits were almost always worthwhile and resulted in me being able to build some exceptionally strong relationships with parents who might otherwise never have crossed the threshold of the school

Which leads me to a true story. Most of my initial home visits were related to attendance issues and there were a number of pupils who got a shock when their new headteacher arrived at the door to ask why they weren’t at school. I rarely had to come back to the house once I’d had a ‘blether’ with their parents. Anyway – a parent approached me at an information evening and explained how she was having real difficulties in getting her 16-year-old son to school, as she often left home before he had to get out of his bed. We agreed that the next time he wasn’t at school that I could make a home visit. As it happened the very next day he was absent – I asked the office staff for the address and directions and set off with a colleague (always go accompanied). I went up to the door and rang the bell …… answer, knocked on the door……………no answer, knocked harder………….no answer, listened at the letter box and heard loud music (he must still be in bed!!!), shouted through the letter box……….the music got louder!!, tried the front door……… opened, walked in the house……………shouting for him to come out!!………………….no answer – imagine my surprise when at last a terrified woman with a baby in her arms came out of a bedroom to explain that no one of that name lived in the house – I’d got the right house number but the wrong street. Huge apologies, a letter and bunch of flowers helped to diffuse the matter – but from that day on I’ve always double-checked the address!

Nevertheless, it’s possible that benefit came from even an error such as this as it was the talk of the town for a couple of weeks “A’m no wantin’ that man at oor door, so get yirsel tae skil”. The home visits for attendance issues certainly worked but what proved even more worthwhile were readmission meetings after exclusions, or meetings to explore other problems which children might be having at school. To sit down, accept hospitality (” no just a cuppa thanks”) and speak as equals about the child is such a useful strategy. I can’t tell you the number of times that my perception of a child has changed by seeing them in their home environment.

I’m not suggesting for one second that headteachers should spend all their days visiting homes but don’t think it’s possible to underestimate the impact it makes when the most senior person in the school is prepared to step outside the expected. The example that such visits set empowers so many others to do the same and can dramatically change the perception of parents towards the school – even those whose experiences as children had been so negative.

I sometimes call this phenomenon the “cheesecounter effect”. It goes something like this – two people are at the supermarket cheesecounter and look into each other’s trolleys and see a range of products for children – inevitably they begin to talk about their experiences of the school. The conversation can go one of two ways – an upward spiral, with the sharing of positive experiences – or a negative spiral. One can’t ignore that so many of parental perceptions are shaped by what they hear from others. It can be through relatively small, infrequent and seemingly inconsequential activities, such as headteacher home visits, which combine to influence the perception of parents towards a school.

Go on – make a nomination

Ann McLanachan - winner of Lifetime Achievement Award

Ann McLanachan, until recently, Headteacher at Longniddry Primary School, East Lothian, receiving her award for Lifetime Acheivement at the 2006 awards ceremony. 

The Scottish Education Awards aim to celebrate the hard work and success taking place in Scottish education.

Nominations will close at 5 pm on Friday 22 February and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 13 June at the City Halls in Glasgow.Nominations will close at 5 pm on Friday 22 February and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 13 June at the City Halls in Glasgow.

Such is the quality of work going on in East Lothian that I intend to nominate a person or a school in each of the categories.  Please join me by making our own nominations.

One Scotland – Active Citizenship Award This category is about encouraging young people to be citizens of local, national and global communities and promoting positive action against cultural and religious intolerance.

LTS Ambition Award  This award is about taking on new challenges and generating an ethos of ambition, a “can do” attitude and a buzz and excitement in the life of the school.

DTS Most Enterprising School (3 Awards) Primary, Secondary and Special This category recognises the central importance of enterprise education and the vital involvement of employers (private, public and voluntary sector) in preparing young people for their contribution to a wealthier and smarter Scotland.

DTS Best Enterprise This category recognises the value of direct participation of young people in an experiential entrepreneurial activity e.g. running a product or service enterprise (economic or social) and the impact this has on the quality of their learning experience.

Quality Meat Scotland Health and Wellbeing – Hungry for Success Award This category is about taking forward Hungry for Success and pursuing a whole school approach to school meals and healthy eating.

BT ICT Learning Award This category is about maximising the potential of ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) to support effective teaching and learning.

BT Greener Schools Award  This category is about how we can encourage young people to take a greater interest in the issues of sustainability and climate change.

CBI Schools for All Award  This category is about offering access to education for all young people and removing barriers where they exist. This year, the focus is on ‘looked after children’, which includes children who are subject to supervision and live with family members as well as looked after and accommodated children who live with foster carers or in residential schools or care homes.

Cambridge Education and Learning Unlimited International Schools Award This category is about how the cross-curricular area of International Education can encourage young people in your school, or authority, with a range of knowledge and skills to develop an understanding of the world and Scotland’s place in it.

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Education Supporter of the Year Is there a cleaner, classroom or learning assistant, auxiliary, janitor, administrator or other supporter in your school, or a school that you know, who stands out from the rest?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Probationary Teacher of the Year (In First Year of Teaching) Is there a Probationary Teacher in your school, or a school that you know, who stands out? If the answer is yes, why not nominate them for this award?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Teacher of the Year Is there a teacher in your school, or a school that you know, who stands out from the rest? If the answer is yes, why not nominate them for this award?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Headteacher of the Year Is the Headteacher in your school, or a school that you know, an inspirational leader who motivates young people and staff to achieve all they can? If the answer is yes, why not nominate them for this award?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Lifetime Achievement This Award is open to all qualified teachers and head teachers approaching the end of their career, and aims to recognise their work and commitment throughout their education career.

Creating a positive dynamic


I visited Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School in Tranent this morning.

In the course of a very enjoyable visit where I observed a number of classes and talked with Headteacher Fiona Waddell and some of her staff about how they create a purposeful learning environment.  The school is not without its challenging pupils but what struck me was the collective impact the staff make and the cumulative effect it has upon children.

All too often in schools classroom behaviour is seen to be the responsibility of the individual teacher, and there is no doubt that individual teachers do set the tone and do have significant impact upon their own class’s behaviour. However, when we talk about the standard of behaviour in an entire school it’s a much more complex affair.

The reality is that an individual teacher can have little effect upon behaviour across a school, nor can a headteacher impose discipline if they have to do it all themselves.  However, where all the staff come together and realise the collective impact that they have upon children then the results can be quite exceptional.  It’s in circumstances such as these that the critical mass takes on a life of its own (see – tipping point)

In my recent posts about being user (customer) facing it might have been possible for people to think that I was suggesting that we roll over when confronted by kids who want their own way on all matters – especially where their behaviour is concerned. I actually think we do a great disservice when this happens as in my experience they need clear parameters and boundaries against which they can rub up against – but which provide clear and unabiguous guidance. Our commitment to treating learners with unconditional positive regard demands that we set such standards.

The problem occurs in schools when these expectations and behaviours are not consistently upheld by all teachers or the management of the school.  What I saw today was a very impressive collective effort which will create a very positive dynamic over the next few years (I should have said that the school has just been created through amalgamation with two other schools).

Last point – in times of challenge -such as these – it’s vital that we retain our sense of “fun”. The staff – despite the challenges they face are prepared and encouraged to relax and have fun with pupils and the wider school community at regular intervals. It’s this careful balance between high expectations and clear boundaries, and relaxation and fun which go towards making a positive, effective and rewarding  learning environment – for both children and adults.

Can an optimist be realistic?


It’s one of the real benefits of keeping a Learning Log that you can read what other people think about your opinions.

And so it was tonight when I came across a comment on Rob Hill’s blog about a post I’d written on Sunday about Schooling for the Future where Rob suggested that I was being unusually pessimistic about the current situation in Scottish education by describing  it as conforming to the Bureaucratic Model.

I do like to think of myself as being an optimist  – that is I always have a positive outlook on the future – in fact it can sometimes be a weakness. But does being an optimist mean that I can’t describe what I see in the present in realistic terms – even if that description appears to have a negative connotation?

I am very optimistic about the future of Scottish education – but that is not to suggest that change is going to be easy or that we will move to a more enlightened model of education in a seamless manner. However, I believe that without an understanding and appreciation of the true nature of the present that the likelihood of impacting upon the future is greatly reduced. Now is that me being pessimistic or optimistic?  Answers on a postcard