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


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??


 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…)


Looking ahead- the delight of Anticipation


Looking ahead- the delight of Anticipation

There is something special this photo of two of my daughters looking out to the Bass Rock on 2 January 2014. It captures for me a sense of anticipation of the future as well perhaps a sense of turning our backs on 2013…a hard year yet with many magical and joyful moments. Life is to be treasured and every moment to be appreciated and savoured, there are so many unique snapshots that can be lost in the melee of everyday life. I wish all fellow tweeters and bloggers a year of conscious joy seeking…

Shift Happens- doesn’t it???


I’ve been conspicuous by my absence from blogging these last six months. Personal, family issues have absorbed my attention and, for once, writing was not the medicine I needed. However, as I approach November and my third shot at writing 50k words in a month now is the time to get the flow again!!

My education world is fascinating at the moment. Although teachers are concerned about the 1+2 languages agenda, it is one of the most ambitious approaches to changing the monolingual culture of the Scots…and we do have until 2020!!! I believe that our children will thrive through this approach and my two nephews who live in the lovely Annecy area of France and who were brought up to speak French to their mother and English (with a Scots accent) to their father, my brother, are a perfect example of this.  I was fascinated watching their language development and how having two words for each object was not a problem.  Mike, my brother, was advised to use the ‘language of love’ when talking to the boys so he spoke English and Rosa, his wife spoke French to them.  I have high hopes for this strategy and hope that we can take as broad an approach as possible to the acquisition of languages and culture of an additional two languages…MLPS, with 27 training days, is in the past.

I am also becoming a reluctant convert to the Early Years collaborative. There may be a few thunderbolts coming down as I say this as my first impressions, from a little distance, were of a massive overly bureaucratic and complex beast that was perseverating Susan Deacon’s concern in ‘Joining the Dots’ that keen early years folk attend conferences and tell each other how important it is and then have more meetings about it.  I do think there is an inherent risk in the magnitude of the programme but it is built on sound methodology.  It also does follow the thinking in appreciative enquiry around looking closely at an area, reflecting on it and then the critical part …’dae something about it’ and so on…  I have attended sessions where there was a sense of limitation on actions based on what is measurable- valuing what we measure rather than measuring what we value.  I have also attended sessions where skilled statisticians and analysts have listened to educators telling the stories of what they know is valuable and supporting them to plan actions that are measurable and that is a totally different kettle of fish.  It must not be turned into a bureaucratic exercise with neat driver charts and graphs and tables that don’t fundamentally change anything worthwhile.

So- I am feeling energised by the agenda in Scottish Education.  With the new GTCs standards and all the excellent work of that small team in Clerwood House in promoting and supporting it across Scotland and beyond,  the profession have the best basis for professional growth and learning of any country in the world.  Exciting stuff…

Looming up for us all however are significant cuts to funding- efficiencies? Perhaps… but driven by the need to reduce and transform services to match available resource and I have fears for this.  Scottish education is in a good state with an excellent future ahead of us.  We are progressing with CfE and young people are being better prepared for a radically uncertain world.  We are grasping the nettle of collaborative school improvement instead of meaningless exercises in self-evaluation to create nice grids in our school improvement plans and we know now we need each other to progress. But we are not yet closing or narrowing the gap consistently between the socio- economic deciles and poverty is destiny for far too many of our young people.  We are not as successful as other comparable countries and it needs our total concentration.  So I worry that ‘efficiency exercises’ that are very much needed to ensure we do the very best we can with the resources we will have, will distract us and cause a climate of anxiety and fear.  If we do this well over the next years we can use this challenge to transform schools- particularly technologically and culturally- however the risk is that the climate could limit creativity in the profession’s thinking.  Teacher unions will have a close eye on proposed changes and rightfully so, however schools need to change and develop into places and spaces for learning that take account of the widening learning environment for our young people- whether that is online or signing up for learning sessions at B&Q or Sainsbury’s.  The times they are a-changing…


 Yet within all this, I remain excited about being involved in education at a time of ‘conjuncture’ and I am curious and impatient to see how education will look for the babies being born at the moment.  My first grandchild is one year old and I have to believe his education in England will be very different to that being propounded currently by a certain Mr G and he will learn through a high quality play environment…We all have a huge responsibility to protect the best in Scottish education and to be brave enough to let go of what has served us well for generations but which will not prepare our young people for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technology that hasn’t’ yet been invented to solve problems that we don’t know are problems yet.  Yes ‘Shift Happens’ but we have to guide and release the reins…