Developing Mental Toughness

I’ve written up my Enquiry so far.  This week we will be applying Improvement Science methodology from the Early Years Collaborative as we think about how to measure progress and improvement, with the help of an expert so more about that later.

The other part of the Fellowship Study is to learn about System Level Leadership and to understand ourselves as leaders.  The next challenge for us is to spend Saturday 6 June, learning about Mental Toughness and how we function on that plane.  We had pre-course work to do which was a long questionnaire, asking us to reflect on our abilities in the areas of challenge, commitment, confidence, emotional control, life control.  The results gave me much cause to ponder.

I know myself quite well but I also know I am changing as I get older. I think my scores were lower than they would have been 5-10 years ago when I was functioning at a very high level as head of a merged school with a team that had become very skilled in raising attainment by delivering a quality holistic education that embraced family and community. I’ve changed.  Strangely I’m less confident in many ways but probably more confident in others. The less confident part came to a head about 18 months for a range of reasons too personal to write about here.  That’s when I engaged with a coach who helped me regroup, find my confidence back and move forward. And yes, I am better for that period but also different.

So Saturday is going to be very interesting. I’m anticipating it will be a challenge that requires courage to be honest with myself and to stay with the process but I am sure I will be even better for it.  I’m also encouraged to read on our closed forum that another HT on the programme was surprised at a questionnaire result.

Thank you SCEL for another great development opportunity.

A Dream Team

As my enquiry idea took shape, I realised that I needed a load of goodwill from local experts to enable me to develop my system leadership.

A recent Children’s Services Inspection in East Lothian highlighted a key strength as being the very good grass roots collaboration that was enabling strong partnership working to support our children.  An example of that is Support from the Start, which I have been privileged to be involved in since coming to ELC (first in the role of Education Champion then as Lead for the Prestonpans Support from the Start Group) has helped many of us to work together in creative and innovative ways to improve life for children under 8 and their families.  Through it and through being a Headteacher in east Lothian for 6 years, I began to identify key people who could help but would they?  Would I be ‘trespassing in their areas of expertise’?  Would I be adding to their workload and burdens? Would they think this enquiry idea was irrelevant?

Oh no they didn’t. I was bowled over by the enthusiasm, generousity, flexibility shown by

  • our local Speech and Language Therapists and their manager as they share their technical expertise, the Great Box of Toys idea they developed, meet with me at the drop of a hat, pass on ideas, encourage, give extra training – they have been so generous and devoid of professional protectionism, happily saying ‘Of course you can use this course and yes we welcome your extra ideas.’ Thank you Lesley, Jo and Karen (and Sarah)
  • my own skilled Nursery Nurse, Susan Savage, who will lead the groups with 2 year old children and their families, bringing her skills in PEEP, Bookbug, Talking Time programmes to create an interesting programme with families. Susan is one of the most approachable, welcoming person to work with families that you could want to lead a programme.  Thank you Susan for being up for this.
  • our local nurseries Camperdown and Seahorse who have both embraced the enquiry and programme with gusto, “Let’s do it,  let’s do it soon!” was their uplifting response. Thank you Laura and Jen and Fiona and Sam.
  • our local Support from the Start team who are responding with positive feedback to a bid I have made for £1200 to enable me to backfill Susan in school one day per week and make up some Great Boxes of Toys.
  • ELC Early Years Team who are sending me research, training opps, ideas and encouragement.
  • Health Visitors who are keen to link us with families who are looking for a wee programme just like this for their 2 year olds.
  • Wee Pans staff, parents and children who are very supportive to me, even when they see a fair bit less of me as I am out starting this all off. “Ms Laing, I’ve no seen you for ages, ” was the greeting that accompanied a lovely big hug last week.

So from that confusing start, a wee idea grew and is blossoming in our local community because of the great folk around.  Recently it’s felt not like a maze but like a red carpet rolling ahead of us! And it’s very exciting.


But what are you going to do?

I can answer that question now! My Fellowship Enquiry is;

To what extent can a Speech, Language and Communication programme for ‘priority’ 2 years olds and their families improve attainment in literacy at Early Level of Curriculum for Excellence?


There is strong evidence of a poverty attainment gap in the early years that widens during P1. Early Intervention strategies in Oral Language consistently show positive benefits in literacy acquisition. The Education Endowment Foundation have calculated that such interventions are cost effective, have a sound evidence base and ‘make approximately 5 months additional progress in children’s spoken language, expressive vocabulary and early reading skills, over the course of a year’. A larger effect of 6 months has been shown in some studies for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  There is also significant evidence that family-school partnerships that use qualified professionals to work with parents/carers, are of longer duration and are group based are particularly effective. (Closing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Education; Sosu and Ellis 2014) Parents/carers will play a key part in this enquiry/intervention.

Statistics indicate that 13.5% of children who presented in East Lothian’s 27 – 30 month check showed developmental concerns in Speech, Language and Communication. This was higher than any other area of developmental concern. The Early Development Instrument carried out in East Lothian in Jan 2012 showed that Communication and General Knowledge Skills were the most vulnerable component of readiness for learning in the Prestonpans Cluster P1 population.

How?    A multi-agency team will lead weekly groups with families of priority 2 years olds using a new SaLC programme THE GREAT BOX OF TOYS. The multi-agency team will consist of a Speech and Language Therapist, a nursery practitioner from each specific setting and a nursery nurse trained in THE GREAT BOX OF TOYS and TALKING TIME SaLT programmes. The nursery nurse will be the lead practitioner with families. It is anticipated that she will be funded from a successful bid to the local Support from the Start network. The nurseries involved will be Prestonpans Infant School, Camperdown and Seahorse Partner Provider Nurseries. Families of 2 year olds will be identified by the Partner Provider nurseries, from the NHS 27 – 30 month checks or referred from local health visitors.

The Great Box of Toys

The Great Box of Toys

Measuring Impact

There is a wide national and international research base supporting the effectiveness of similar programmes. In addition to this, the Enquiry will be measured using the Early Years Collaborative Improvement Methodology as a ‘test of change’.

So that is the plan.  The reality has been more exciting…. see next blog…

Interview and Getting Started on SCEL Fellowship Study

I went on holiday recently and one of our walks looked like this on Map My Walk. This is exactly the image I would choose to represent the start of my Enquiry.

Starting SCEL image

The red dot was the interview, which I felt like I scraped through because I really didn’t understand how much my enquiry should have been worked out and ready to go. From the briefing, I knew that I had to work out the area of my enquiry in some detail. My preparation was to red thoroughly the research around early years impact, raising attainment, system leadership and in terms of an Enquiry …. I thought Social Justice – Early Years – then investigated a number of possible enquiry areas – and considered the process of enquiry.

I was a bit flummoxed at interview to be asked several times, “But what are you going to DO?” That was when I realised I should have already reached the point where my enquiry was ready to go. Prospective applicants take note!

I should also have had a proper discussion with my line manager by then and although we did manage in the very tight timescale to have a discussion where we agreed which council priorities my early intervention approach would support, which enabled him to give me his support, we didn’t manage a proper discussion until later.

During that later discussion with the programme director and my line manager, an alternative area of enquiry (Developing Nurturing Approaches council wide) which would lead itself more to System Level Leadership was suggested, which kind of threw me but I do listen to feedback so I spent a few weeks testing that out with more reading and a different plan. In the end, I chose not to go there. I’ve been involved in developing that area before at a system level in Pilton and there was no energy or excitement in breaking new ground. It’s happening in my council anyway, led by our able Principal Psychologist. So that explains a few of the red circles I went round in the diagram above. Back to Square One and this time, after a month of going round in red circles, getting nowhere, and still a little uncertain, I was off….

Why the SCEL Fellowship Study Programme?

My initial motivation to apply came from my growing frustration at the lack of place given to issues of Equity and Social Justice in Scottish Education. It seemed to me that these issues were becoming defined (crudely) as the bottom 20% are impacting on our overall attainment so we need to get that sorted. I realise that’s a caricature but it was how a lot of thinking was coming over to me. So that was the area I wanted to study. I have been committed to Equity and opposed to Discrimination throughout my life and career. I have lived and worked in feisty communities and witnessed ugly discrimination on the basis of poverty, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender and have battled that for 4 decades now (yikes).

2 events in 2014 led me to looking at speaking out on a wider than local scale. Dee Torrance, Edinburgh University interviewed me at length for one of her studies about my Social Justice Leadership. I didn’t think I had much to say but found I did and when Dee typed it up, I was blown away. She then asked me to speak at the SELMAS conference in October 2014. As I prepared, I realised I had enough material to write a wee book. Delegates would have been glad I didn’t present all that material! Judge foryourself here.

I’d been working with a coach for the last year and had used a tool called Career Anchors which had showed that my primary drivers in Education are Technical Competence ( I like to really know what I am talking about doing.) and Commitment to Making A Difference (Social Justice). So I was waiting and looking for an opportunity to have a say , study and debate on a wider platform than my school level. And as I waited, the SCEL Fellowship Study appeared… and I thought this is it!

Blogging the SCEL Fellowship Study Programme – can I?

I resurrected my blog to share my progress on the SCEL (Scottish College of Educational Leadership) Fellowship Programme, which began earlier this year. I’ve shared nothing since. Recently I’ve been asking myself why?

1. I’m taking a while to get my head round what the Fellowship Programme is about and whether I am on the right track. There’s only 7 of us across Scotland and our time together is highly pressured so there had not been the time to check my ponderings out. Thankfully that changed in the last month when I was able to start working with my coach and my academic adviser. So now I am fairly confident that I am on a good track (because there isn’t a right track!), I can blog more easily.

2. Confidentiality – much of this journey is about System Leadership, working with other services/settings outwith my school and the (many) ups and (few) downs of that are not mine to share. I’ll resolve that by asking others if I can share some relevant parts but realistically those will be the ups not the downs so this won’t the be the ‘warts and all’ journal that I am also writing. Fair enough, most blogs are limited in this way.

3. Audience – who reads my blog anyway. It used to be folk that were interested in Burmese Migrant Education but I’ve not blogged for so long, few people probably do. So I will start off talking to myself, which I am really, really good at. But I’m going to aim this at leaders that are interested in SCEL Fellowship Study or in Leading an Early Years Enquiry.

Enough naval gazing – on with the story ….

Fire destroys Boys’ Dorm in CDC School for Burmese migrant children

In March 2015, a fire from neighbouring field destroyed the dorm that housed 62 boys and 4 teachers in our link school, CDC School in Mae Sort, Thailand.   These boys live in the school because they have no parents or are separated from their parents. When fire struck in March, the boys and their teachers who live with them lost everything. On teacher had just struggled against incredible odds to graduate as a teacher.  He lost his papers, his graduation certificate photos and belongings.  These boys had all their belonging in one small plastic box each – all gone!
CDC fire

The boys are sleeping in school halls until a new dorm can be built for them. Wee Pans children, staff, families and friends have raised an incredible £3550 to send to CDC School to rebuild the dorm for the boys. In 10 years of partnership with Burmese migrant schools, I have never known anything like the generosity of this Prestonpans community.

It’s a joy and privilege for me to be able to tell CDC School that we can help them build a stronger dorm for the boys and teachers.  .  You can see them here at their annual school opening prizegiving assembly. They have had their ‘summer/hot season’ holiday and school has just opened for a new session.  Some of the boys and teachers who lived in the burnt down dorm are in this picture.

CDC School Prizegiving

You will see if you read further down this blog that the hospital that runs the school was flooded in 2013, just after we left. The resilience these leaders face against incredible hurdles in every aspect of their lives is humbling. We are honoured to be their friends.

Scottish College of Educational Leadership Fellowship Programme 2015

SCEL acceptance
This is why I am back to blogging.  I have been accepted to study on the SCEL Fellowship Programme for the next 11 months.  I’m NOT leaving Prestonpans Infant School.  I’ve been there for 3.5 years now and am really enjoying working in a great community with early years children and families and a tremendous staff team.   This study opportunity is over and above the day job.  Having loved the stimulation and intellectual rigour of SQH, I am very excited to be returning to study around an issue I have always been passionate about – nowadays it’s known as SOCIAL JUSTICE.

The area of study I choose has to be negotiated with East Lothian Council to reflect their priorities.  So within the broad parameters of my Social Justice interests and East Lothian Council Integrated Children’s Services priorities, we have agreed on this area of study….

Which early learning approaches and policies enable Scotland’s practitioners and families to close the attainment and achievement gap for Early Level (3-5yrs) pupils at risk of failing to learn?

The programme starts on 20/21 March 2015 but my thinking started probably in 1972, aged 15, when I began volunteering at a local children’s home so it’s been brewing a long time.  The Scottish Government have made Equality and the closing of the Poverty Attainment Gap an increasing priority over the last 5 years or so, but particularly recently with the recently announced Scottish Attainment Challenge.  They have also focussed on the importance of Scotland’s Children having the ‘best start in life’ through their initiative, the Early Years Collaborative, which adopts improvement science methodology to improve outcomes. This year, the Scottish Government has increased funding to give 600 hrs of Early Learning and Childcare to all 3 and 4 year olds and to some 2 year olds.  So there’s plenty to consider and the main task I am faced with now is limiting all the factors and issues to a few key areas of investigation.  Watch this space…

Back to Blogging

I haven’t blogged since 2013. Twitter has taken over as my preferred social media, even though it’s a challenge to communicate in 140 characters. I’ll tell you the reason I’ve decided to come back to blogging in the next post…..