Showing posts from 2016

My Leadership Story

I have volunteered to "share my leadership journey" for ten minutes before leading a discussion with other middle leaders at a SCEL event in Edinburgh.  This blog post is a rehearsal of those ten minutes, and I would gratefully appreciate any constructive feedback. I have a leadership story rather than a leadership journey to share. This is the story I tell myself about how I got to where I am now as a leader, and about where I might go next. It is very subjective and selective. Nonetheless I think it is worth sharing, because this is the truth I inhabit. You also have stories you tell yourself, and you inhabit your stories every day of your professional life. It is sometimes easy to recognise these stories in others - the colleague who sees themselves as the victim of unreasonable burdens regardless of changing circumstances or another who sees themselves as blessed and lucky no matter what misfortunes befall them. It is much harder to identify the stories we tell ourselv

Planning for Learning or Planning for Behaviour?

Several months ago I found myself sitting beside a quite senior staff member from one of our colleges of initial teacher education, who complained to me that her student teachers all seemed to be obsessed with behaviour management. I was flabbergasted, but failed miserably to put together a reasonable argument for why the students were quite right. That conversation came back to me today as I taught a maths cover class, who were learning about the graphs of linear equations.  The class had some lively characters in it, and they were clearly struggling with the central concept: that a line on a coordinate diagram represents all the points where a particular linear equation involving x and y is true. As they explored this concept through a series of activities, many of them experienced confusion and frustration. These are normal, healthy emotions for learners. We were able to stick with these challenging experiences partly because the pupils were operating in an environment in whic

And what if we don't achieve our dreams?

"If A then B" is logically equivalent to "If (Not B) then (Not A)". For example "if a shape has three sides, then it is a triangle" is logically equivalent to "if a shape is not a triangle, then it does not have three sides". The second statement in quotes is called the contrapositive of the first statement in quotes. Logically speaking, they are identical statements. If one is true, the other must be, and vice versa. In this case, they are both true statements. A commonly touted inspirational message we deliver to young people can be distilled down to "if you do all the things right that are within your power, then your dreams will come true". Consider its contrapositive. 

NQT Professional Enquiries

Our school's NQTs presented their professional enquiries to staff at an in-service session this afternoon, with each one at a different table in the canteen. I was humbled and thrilled by the depth of their thinking, and by the tone and level of their discussions with staff. I picked up the following key insights from the three enquiries I heard about: female pupils still  often appear to defer to male pupils in group discussions. Randomised groups aren't good enough. pupils prefer to work with friends, but the quality of their discussions might actually better when they are with peers they know less well. With the right support they can realise this themselves. we hold enormous power as teachers, and the language we use with pupils can make a huge difference to how they feel about learning and about themselves as learners. About the ensuing discussions at the canteen tables, I was particularly delighted that: many teachers hung around in conversation with the NQTs

Classroom Rules: Imagine it's the last lesson of the year.

This tweet Drawing up class rules collaboratively should be compulsory in every class! #edchatie — Bríd (@BridCarlow) June 13, 2016 led me to this video in which Tom Bennett says that teachers should not negotiate classroom rules with students, because they may produce rules which are not sensible.  I'm not sure if I agree, but it struck me that I should share what I do. I start new classes by asking them to imagine it is the last lesson of the year. They are walking out of the door, and I have a wee tear in my eye, because they have been the best class I have ever had, and am really going to miss them. I ask them to tell me what they think they will have to do during the year in order to make that happen. I am not pretending that they are in control, but having generated the list of behaviours (which has always been pretty good, even with some very challenging classes) I ask them if they think they can live up to this list. They have always said yes to me. I must s

An exercise to explore school improvement

1. Consider this list of "changes" that one might make as a teacher in order to improve one's effectiveness: "write a new course", " read about and implement a different approach to marking homework ", " change one's beliefs about the potential of one's students", "reflect on the language one uses with students, consider the extent to which it empowers or belittles them, and make changes", " go to a sharing-good-practice session and implement something from the session in your classroom", "invite a colleague to observe a lesson and give you feedback about your 'way of being' with the students", " flip your classroom", "reflect on your body language in the classroom and improve it"... 2. Add some more to the list yourself. 3. Write each of the "changes" on post-it notes, and give each a mark out of ten for the potential they have to improve outcomes for learners in

The Challenge of Integrity as a School Leader (or anyone else for that matter)

I'm currently reading Theories in Practice by Argyris and Schön. It is a remarkable, thought-provoking work, exploring the inconsistencies between the things people claim to value and the things they actually value; between the theories they claim to have about how changes occur and the theories they actually use to direct their actions. It is easy to reflect on how these inconsistencies are evident in the words and actions of others - much harder to see our own inconsistencies. As school leaders, we say we seek to increase the effectiveness of our schools. But what do we mean by effectiveness? Do the things we claim to care about improving match the things we actually demonstrate caring about by our actions - the things we actually care about improving? And how do we claim to be going about effecting improvement - what are our espoused theories of improvement? Do we use these espoused theories to guide our actions, or do we actually operate according to different theories, of wh


Fearghal has asked on his blog if we should be doing something collectively in Scotland to re-energise the Teachmeet movement. I've attended and presented at several Teachmeets over the years, and found them uplifting, energising experiences. I don't think, hand on heart, that I have adopted long-term very many of the good practices being presented by others. This isn't because I didn't consider them worthwhile. It's just that they didn't quite match my context, or I just forgot about them in the daily maelstrom of the classroom. I suspect that most participants would say the same, or something close to it. Now maybe the point of Teachmeet is to embed the good practices in the classroom of the presenters  themselves. This seems more likely. I think that might apply to me. If so, we should return to the principle that Teachmeets are for presenting , not for listening. If we want the audience to get something out of Teachmeet that will lead to positive impa