About vonniemc

I live in the beautiful Scottish Borders and work as Head of Schools Services. I have three daughters living in Manchester, Edinburgh and Borders. Interests include walking, reading and thinking. I love writing and have come back to writing creatively after long years of policy and academic writing and am enjoying finding my writing voice again. I love travelling and aspire to a 'gap year' as my children have experienced...but a weekend away suffices. I have a deep interest in education- learning and teaching and frameworks for learning, including organisation of schooling.

Moving on…

I had the great fortune to be involved in bringing Sir John Jones to Borders to speak to an audience of enthusiasts, mainly across Borders but also open to neighbouring authorities in our Teacher Education Partnership. I have to be absolutely honest and admit that titles don’t mean much to me: that doesn’t mean that I disrespect people with a title- just that I believe people are people are people. To form a view about someone who has achieved a recognition through systems, national or international, distracts from the value of the person behind the title. I respect people for how I experience them and some people humble me to such an extent I think any award or achievement is warranted. Equally some of the most inspirational people I have met will never enter into the sphere of recognition they deserve. Sir John Jones, as I was about to discover, deserves every accolade he has been given.

I elected to meet Him from his arrival in Berwick Upon Tweed railway station and bring him to our ‘Friday Speaker’ event in Scottish Borders. Firstly, he was definitely ‘John’ and not ‘Sir John’. Quickly I realised I was experiencing a special interlude that would influence me and strike a chord beyond the day of our meeting.

The summary of this is around the cognitive and emotional connection he made with me and my colleague who had joined me for the journey. The temptation we resisted was to squirrel him away somewhere to enjoy our dialogue with him for the afternoon and forget there was a hall full of teachers and headteachers arriving in Earlston who had opted to spend their Friday afternoon listening to a great leader.

On reflection, the striking note for us was his humility. He was almost surprised at how his success had come about as it was all about an everyday attitude to people- a deep driving passion and he spoke eloquently and amusingly about this in his talk. John had led three secondary schools, forging relationships based on absolute concern for young people’s welfare and, in the process, spoken of unconditional high regard for all staff in his own pathway through leadership.

You can tell a lot by how people relate away from the conference hall, the microphone, the blog…we had dialogue that spanned tales of school management, leadership; history and battlefields’ trips; children and young people. The common feature for us was the love you must have for the children primarily but for all the people you encounter in leading a school- and the challenges when adults working with young people found that difficult. And we laughed and laughed and laughed… In summary we found a colleague spirit that believed in the innate goodness of young people and the staff who invest their time in giving them the best experience possible. He was unafraid of expressing emotion and, critically, saw this as essential in making a difference- something most teachers say drives them in their work with young people but can be eroded at times.

When John spoke to the audience in Earlston High School, people couldn’t even speak at the end..including me, who was meant to give the thanks.

‘Inspirational speakers’ get a hard hit sometimes in terms of the actual impact of the investment. Our audience left the hall energised, enthusiastic, challenged and motivated to make a difference to young people’s lives. Sometimes we need a space to listen, hear, think and reflect, to laugh and reminisce …

What a great idea for a Friday afternoon in an asymmetric week arrangement!!

For me…I remembered again why I came I into teaching; that I am a teacher, despite being in local authority management for a long period; that my strength of belief in young people and the intentions of a fantastic teaching profession are not just right but essential. In one word… WOW

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What counts? SQA Awaits…

Quite a week. Spent last couple of days ensuring that we have the data we need for media requests for Monday’s SQA results…for young people on Tuesday. Had some wobbles in SEEMIS Vision data across Scotland but confident it will get sorted for Monday. Secondary HTs accessing accurate data on SQA website and analysing student by student- who dares criticise the commitment of HTs and staff in finding out how well their young people have done?

Juxtapose that against coping with my husband’s impending triple bypass heart operation next week and teachers will absolutely understand how it is perfectly possible to care about both. I just love the calls I have had from secondary HTs today finding out how successful their planning, training, caring, learning, cajoling, encouraging, enthusing, valuing has been. They don’t have a smidgen of understanding that this is way outside what many people think HTs and staff are doing at this time of year. It doesn’t matter to them- not because they have to produce great results for ‘those and such as those’ but for their young folk- their moral purpose. Then you have the reason I am still in the job after all these years, when I veer between worrying about ensuring how we represent schools and young people accurately next week with how well my husband will recover from his operation. To someone outwith the schools sector this would sound close to madness. To me it reminds me how incredibly honoured I have been to be involved in the most honourable of professions, the mad world of the knot of love, expectation, angst, frustration, excitement, pride, fear and professionalism that represents the teaching profession. Misunderstood. Mystifying. Weak at professional promotion or explanation of intention. Lost often in the depths of complexity in how to improve learning, understanding, teaching skill.

So I face a week next week where my husband will be in major surgery and I am optimistic and worried in equal measure. I also cannot disconnect myself from a profession that holds me and keeps me in a web of respect that never leaves me, waiting and anxious to see how well we have helped our young people to show their strengths and achieve what they deserve…worried and anxious for my husband’s recovery.

Not seeing the WOOD for the trees….parity of esteem?

I have now assumed responsibility for implementation of the Wood Commission recommendations on youth employment. I listened to Sir Ian Wood talking about his commission midway through the work of his group at a COSLA Round Table event I attended as Acting Director of Education and Lifelong Learning with our Education Convenor. I found his message compelling and the stories he told of young people and employment opportunities in this ‘brave new world’ affected me. He painted a picture of an education world that was stuck in a world of academic v vocational education resulting in countless young people missing out on exciting highly paid opportunities (eg in the oil industry amongst other areas) through what I interpreted as a ‘dyed in the wool’ approach to careers advice alongside narrow learning opportunities.

I reflected as he spoke on how much schools have done to embrace the Senior Phase in S4-6 and felt for secondary school staff who have worked tirelessly to update their skills, experience and thinking around the curriculum, yet may be working in a kind of school-centric bubble.

So tomorrow I’m off to the local college to talk about the regional outcome agreement and how we can work differently, together with schools, employers and Universities to design learning pathways that place vocational opportunities right up there with the old ‘gold standard’ of certain groups of Highers. We need to give our young people every possible support to not just survive (which can be hard enough) but thrive in a world that values and needs Scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical vocational routes to highly paid employment. Interestingly there are many many ‘fingers in the (Wood) pie’ within the Council. Anything with the tag of ‘reducing inequalities’ attached to it brings the ’employability’ or ‘economic development’ army out in force!

My job is never dull….

Friday Nights- Recovery or Reflection

It’s been an intense week. Starting with the national CfE leadership event in Edinburgh on Senior Phase including Nationals and new Highers, catapulted back into early years collaborative work transforming notions of interagency working towards one team and onto work with the local authority assessment team in partnership with Education Scotland making sense of assessment 3-18- all to a background of major restructure of the Council.

What integrates all of this  is our sense of moral purpose.

I met a friend from teacher training days last Saturday in Edinburgh and towards the end of our wallowing in old stories, family news and critical challenging aspects of our lives, my friend brought up her stress in recording planning of learning. After over 30 years of classroom teaching,  she was required to plan with codes and minutiae from CfE experiences and outcomes that was paralysing her in achieving the creativity and focus she craved in inspiring her learners. If only she knew that I sat on the ‘Tackling Bureaucracy’ Taskforce and everything she said underpinned the findings of that group and brought it to life for me. She exemplified the teacher that the unions raised who knew their craft, understood learning and continually sought to improve their own understanding alongside their Learners…yet were being required to go through a process that was universal. First day of teaching same as teacher clocked up over 9000 days.  While I accept and have witnessed the old adage of  30 years being 30×1 year as opposed to 1×30 years, ‘one size fits all’ planning systems do not make any sense.  

I ended the week- earlier this evening with a coffee meeting with a highly experienced and effective Headteacher who was feeling swamped by the prevailing agenda.  What disturbed me was that on closer examination this agenda had little to do with learning or teaching and more to do with managing a large school with little supply staff and more management time being used to cover absent staff and attending authority meetings on financial savings meetings that required their professional expertise to minimise impact on frontline services.

What threaded through the week was moral purpose and frustration in equal measure.

I also read a fellow twitterer’s blog that reminded me of the essential truth: ‘scratch the surface of a cynic and find a frustrated idealist’.  In tweets this teacher was critical, angry and definitely cynical over the implementation of Nationals and the impending Highers.  His blog on developing and implementing English N5 course was inspirational. 

My job often steers me towards simplistic judgements and reactions based on frustration and overload yet moral purpose is the antidote.  We are working with colleagues across the country that are fallible, can be opinionated and arrogant and can express this in articulate terms.  However these colleagues have the good of the young people they teach at the heart of their thoughts and actions and the absolute minority of teachers who do not should be dismissed in terms of our views or belief in the integrity of the teaching profession.  I value the connection with colleagues/friends at the interface of teaching/ learning.  Indeed I profess jealousy that they have the in depth knowledge that we in central services can only gain often through tacit knowledge. 

I often joke that I am ‘on the dark side’ but I don’t believe that. I would never have predicted that I would be in authority level management and leadership most of my career but what drives and has driven me is championing the teacher. This can be an empty, mindless statement rooted in conservatism and inertia in moving forward educationally but I am reminded every day of the dynamic, passionate, heart-rending at times devotion and commitment to learning and achievement that drives most teachers. 

 

So- moral purpose is also my saviour.

 

 

 

The weekend

Reaching Friday on a difficult week is equal to reaching the summit of a mountain. However the spiritual experience of conquering the physical challenges of climbing and challenging your own limits  and reaching a summit has an enlightening feel.  Friday nights in a challenging week are often more about recovery.

 

I am challenging myself tonight on my new year’s resolutions. In the space filled energy of the Christmas holidays I knew what I needed to do to reach into my deepest being to achieve happiness, satisfaction, congruence. Yet no more than 7 weeks into the new year I have allowed worklife to draw me away from that vision into a synthetic existence that is not dependent on my own energies and desires but others’ agendas and frustrations.

 

I visited a primary school today that caused me to reflect on my work life. The Headteacher and Depute there talked of their belief, their passion, their trust in staff, their plans for the future and the focus of their passion was outside their office. children milled around, happy and confident, trusting in the safety and structure of a well managed and ambitious school.  It was a joy to see.

I love being challenged and my experience today in that school challenged me to follow my dreams…..

A Pain in the Back…or a welcome lesson??

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 I was off work with a throat infection at the start of last week, was getting ready to return on Wednesday when my back just ‘went’. Standing waiting for the kettle to boil, thinking of the bacon sandwich I had garnered all my energy to prepare, something exploded inside me. Not particularly nice to read, I appreciate, but it’s the only way I can explain the excruciating pain that left me fighting unconsciousness for around 10 minutes. I was so worried that Dave, my husband, would find me on the kitchen floor when he came home from work, I managed to phone a friend who was also off ill, to tell her incoherently, that if she didn’t hear from me in the next 15 minutes, to start worrying. It seems funny now and I think it will appear in my ( eventual) retirement speech as the friend I phoned is also my closest colleague at work… but at the time it was a frightening experience.  I have not had any significant back problems so the pain and the subsequent disablement was alien to me.

I do everything fast- speak fast, think fast, move fast (probably explains my frequent trips to A&E departments all over the world), drive fast, eat fast and I should probably not carry on this list at the risk of becoming inappropriate… Suddenly I was confined to an (ergonomic) chair and couldn’t do anything for myself. It was sent to try me as my mother would have said. I also felt sick when I went online so my beloved I pad became an enemy rather than friend, my I phone went into hibernation and I was forced to sit still and rest. I decided to try daytime TV as a substitute for my usual busyness. After a session of house renovations, antique buying challenges, families moving to hotter climates with wailing relatives left behind I realised this was not for me.  I found my solace in crosswords and Sudoki with bursts of news and politics broadcasts and then rediscovered Radio 4.  Bliss. I lay there having stories read to me, listening to plays and debates which I switched off if they became too heated as it disturbed my calm. And I didn’t think about work!

I was able to talk often to my oldest daughter who is going through a recruitment process to a senior legal post and was struggling with dilemmas over family, work, loyalty to her current employers, fears for a huge step up in responsibility… I was able to respond to texts from my middle daughter who is also due to change posts soon and it was lovely to be there at the end of the day when my youngest daughter came home from work regaling me with stories of the conversations she had had with customers, both lovely and horrendous.  

So. Back to work on Monday, armed with painkillers from mild to strong, with a gradual return to normal mobility.  The learning in this challenging week has been interesting. We neglect Time in the middle of busy jobs and lives. We treat it as a cheap commodity when it is precious, a treasure to bring the magic out in each and every day. We normalise missed moments, missed opportunities as an inevitable part of everyday life.

While I would never wish backache on anyone, I have to accept that an enforced, if painful, rest reminded me of some eternal truths that may just have escaped me for rather too much of my life. Now the real challenge comes to weave what I’ve learned into the same work life I left last week. All in the end is around family and friends….

 

(The old photo is of my maternal grandparents at the green felt card table that followed our family house to house till it fell apart. simple pursuits…)