Monthly Archives: November 2013



These words from psychologist William James (brother of The Turn of the Screw author, Henry James) got me thinking about the importance  of embodying good habits and avoiding bad ones when learning instruments:

”Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.”

This quote came from an article on one of my favourite websites, Brainpickings. You can read the full article here:



These words from psychologist William James (brother of The Turn of the Screw author, Henry James) got me thinking about the importance  of embodying good habits and avoiding bad ones when learning instruments:

”Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.”

This quote came from an article on one of my favourite websites, Brainpickings. You can read the full article here:

EduBlog Award Nominations 2013 by @TeacherToolkit #Eddies13⤴


I originally listed my top educational blogs here, and have had a good think about my selection for ‘The Educational Blog Awards’ of 2013. In time for the deadline, my nominations are: Nominations by @TeacherToolkit: Best individual blog – @HeadGuruTeacher by Tom Sherrington Best group blog – #BlogSync, by @Eductronic_Net aka @Christopher Waugh Best new … Continue reading »

Wednesday seminars: Professional Update⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

Professional Update

Our SoE Wednesday Seminars are proving to be a really interesting and useful source of research provocations for me – you get a “taster” of some colleagues’ work and a robust discussion with others in attendance, all within an hour. This week’s was presented by Cate Watson and Alison Fox and was entitled:

Professional re-accreditation: constructing teacher subjectivities for career-long professional learning

It offered a critical interpretation of the Professional Update system which has been introduced recently to the teaching profession by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

Cate started by explaining what Professional Update was and how it was closely linked to the Professional Review and Development systems already in existence. The PRD process is an annual review which takes place between a registered teacher (HT, LA manager etc.) and his or her line manager. The purpose of this review is developmental and self – evaluation is supposed to drive the process; professional learning and developmental needs are supposed to be discussed, previous PL experiences evaluated in terms of the impact on learning and future ones planned. We know from previous experience (National CPD team survey, Teaching Scotland’s Future survey) that in 2011 when this data was gathered less than half of teachers interviewed had had a PRD within the previous year. There is a feeling that in general terms, PRD has perhaps fallen short of expectations.

Professional Update (PU) is a 5 yearly re-registration process which will be required of all teachers and educators if they wish to maintain active GTCS registration which is necessary if they are to remain eligible to teach. The PU process will be based on what happens in PRD.

The thrust of Cate and Alison’s argument is that:

  •  There has been discussion and visibility of the processes but not the principles of PU
  • The underpinning principles of PU seem to have emerged from prevalent managerialist discourses around professionalism and teacher learning and they have not been articulated
  • There has been a surprisingly uncritical acceptance of this new system by the profession
  •  There are tensions between the developmental and accountability functions of PRD.
  •  Coaching and self- evaluation are central to the process (not so much an argument – maybe more of an explanatory statement).

The data they gathered through interviews with participants in an introductory pilot of the PU system suggest that the message about the separation of PU from competency procedures has been successfully communicated.

The GTCS has been consistent in its approach to dissemination of the policy; in early stages its leaders introduced it carefully as a process with a reverse perspective of “what it is not” in an attempt to emphasise the distance between it and competency or disciplinary procedures which the organisation also oversees for the profession.

The uncritical acceptance of this message seems to indicate that some aspects of what is going on in PU are being overlooked. For example, these two processes might be described as being completely separate and unconnected but essentially they are being conducted by the same people and this may present a less than distinct separation between them. In a school, it is one’s line-manager who performs PRD which will feed into the PU process but it is also the line manager who will raise competency issues should they emerge, thus unfolding a course of action which leads back to the GTCS via the local authority. This raises the question of how open can participants be in their approach to the process?

Self-evaluation is at the heart of the process of PRD, but how useful is this in these circumstances? In spite of frequent exhortations to encourage this as a practice at the heart of professional learning (see GTCS advice on PRD; Education Scotland’s pages on career-long professional learning),self- evaluation is not a universal good – it can only be as good as the person self-evaluating, regardless of whether or not the shadow of eligibility to teach is looming.

The mainstay of the argument here about teacher subjectivities is aimed at the use of a coaching approach in the PU/PRD process (according to those present at the discussion this emanates from the discourses of Total Quality Management, first raised in the late 80s  some of its values have helped shape the new managerialism in education) which directs teachers back to the new suite of professional standards. It seems like we may be operating in a closed loop whereby our entry to the profession is controlled by the authority whose systems also manage our performance and whose standards impose a structure for learning and development which is impossible to ignore if we wish to remain eligible to teach. Some might see this as a managerialist reconstruction of teacher subjectivity and an attempt to ensure teacher compliance. Whichever way there does seem to be acceptance that PU is all about development and not our eligibility to teach, that coaching and self-evaluation will make it work and we will all be better teachers as a result of it. Much of the work I did with the National CPD Team was on PRD – then I might have been more convinced of the connection between PRD and teacher improvement, now I’m not so sure.

Jisc RSC Scotland Open Education Joint Forum⤴


Earlier this week I was invited by Jisc RSC Scotland to attend their Open Education Joint Forum which took place at the Informatics Forum at the University of Edinburgh.  It was a very well attended event that featured a packed programme of thought provoking and  engaging presentations that highlighted a range of really inspiring open education developments.   I’ve put together a storify of the event’s lively twitter back channel here and links to all the presentations are available from Jisc RSC Scotland here.

Open Scotland

Lorna M Campbell, Cetis and Joe Wilson, SQA

I kicked of the event with a short overview of the Open Scotland before passing over to Joe who challenged the audience to share their educational resources, before talking about about the benefits of openness and calling for changing mindsets around Open Education.  Joe also reminded us that there is a real strength in Scottish education, we have dedicated and talented teaching staff and by opening up education they can shine for learning.

Joe Wilson, SQA

Joe Wilson, SQA

Massive Open Online Courses: Open education  of course?

Martin Hawksey, ALT

Martin Hawksey, my former Cetis colleague, now with ALT, gave an inspiring presentation that placed MOOCs in the historical context of technology innovation and asked if we are now in danger of promoting a dogmatic approach to programming and technology innovation. Martin revisited Doug Englebart’s “Mother of All Demos” which, among many other innovations, demonstrated screen sharing and videoconferencing as far back as 1968.  In education we have a tendency to get stuck in particular ways of doing things, both students and teachers have specific expectations and can be very resistant to change.

Martin Hawksey, ALT

Martin Hawksey, ALT

Martin highlighted some of the tools, services, platforms and applications that can be employed to deliver MOOCs.  He also reminded us that every letter of MOOC is negotiable and suggested that the issue of MOOC completion rates is irrelevant.  Open or closed is not a binary thing, but there are huge benefits to moving towards more openness.  Martin concluded by telling is all that “openness is about feeling warm inside” and that we should all “ride the waves of innovation to a more open, more relevant style of education’.  Martin has written a an excellent blog post about his presentation which you can read here: Taking on the dogmatic approach to education with a bit of ‘reclaim open digital connectedness’.

Re:Source OER Repository

Garry Cameron, Scotland’s Colleges, Jackie Graham and Sarah Currier, Mimas

Gerry spoke about the need to change hearts and minds to use and develop open educational resources and called for a clear statement and a decisive stance on open educational resources from Scottish Government. Scotland’s Colleges committed to releasing resources under Creative Commons licences.

Gerry Cameron, Scotland's Colleges

Gerry Cameron, Scotland’s Colleges

Re:Source is an OER repository for Scotland’s colleges. The open platform is here and could be used by many across the Scottish education sector but policy drivers needed.  Jisc RSc Scotland is collaborating with Scotland’s Colleges to work ona  way forward. Librarians also have a crucial role to play in developing open repositories within Scotland’s colleges.  Jackie Graham went on to demonstrate the Re:Source repository before handing over to Sarah Currier who spoke about the Jorum repository which powers Re:Source.

Jackie Graham, Re:Source

Jackie Graham, Re:Source

Blackboard xpLor

Julie Usher, Blackboard

Julie Usher, Blackboard

Julie Usher, Blackboard

Julie Usher began by highlighting the potential of OERs but suggested that they can be hard to find; how do you fin and evaluate OERs, link them to curricula, including assessments.  To address this problem Blackboard have developed the xpLor content repository. xpLor supports OER discover and allows content to be pulled directly into Blackboard courses.  Creative Commons is baked into xpLor repository so content can be exported with  CC licenses.

Introduction to Open Badges and OBSEG

Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Open badges are a form of digital accreditation that can be displayed online.  Badges are like coats of arms, they are images that contain information and have meaning beyond the visual.  Open Badges incentivise informal, formal and work based education and break learning into manageable chunks. The Open Badges in Scottish Education Group (OBSEG), which is supported by Jisc RSC Scotland, has set up three sub-groups focusing on Learner Progress, Technology and Design and Staff Development.

Evelyn Gibson blog – Closing the Gap Summit⤴


“Working in partnership with the third sector to improve parental engagement”

image002I have been teaching since 1981 and have been HT at Saracen Primary for 21 years.  The area where  I work faces many social challenges, and many of our pupils need help to devise strategies to help cope with those demands.

Building resilience, raising self esteem and boosting confidence are key priorities at Saracen Primary and we aim to do that by exposing the children to a range of learning experiences that inspire and motivate them to see beyond the boundaries that currently restrict them.

Of course we all recognise the important role that parents play in their children’s education and the benefits to those children who are supported at home,  but when that’s not in place we need to look at how we can build on what assets we have at our disposal and we can find those assets within the school, within the local community and by engaging with partner agencies and the third sector.

My presentation at the Parental Engagement event on Wednesday 4th December 2013 will focus on one example of how parents, community partnerships and third sector working came together with the school and through an Expressive Arts based project, provided the children with an inspirational insight into areas of the world of work that were totally new to them.

By linking in with the local college, Further Education is now firmly on the agenda for their futures and by the end of the project pupils will have had some experience of the whole process of fashion from the concept of design all the way through to the catwalk.

Evelyn Gibson

HT Saracen Primary School




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There’s no such thing as The Strategy. Only strategies, plural, for people⤴

from @ Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education


Originally posted on the wonderful NoTosh Facebook page.

During my tour of Sweden, I worked with groups of senior education leaders - district directors, politicians, parent and union reps, principals - and sometimes it might even have been the first time that these distinct groups of leaders had sat together in the same room to talk about how their strategies for better learning might actually be put into place.

All the discussions and processes we used unearthed fascinating insights, interesting as much as anything for the potential that, until now, had been locked up in their different perspectives of what great learning actually entailed. One such fascinating discussion was with a wide range of education leaders at a 90 minute workshop in Tidaholm, a beautiful city a couple of hours out of Gothenburg.

We undertook an exercise that is quick to explain, and leaves ample time for people to share the hopes, fears and expectations of the future, in a structured way that leaves no innovative stone unturned.

Part of the process, nicknamed the Dilemma Dance, involves each mixed team (principal, district person, teacher) coming up with what they believe to be the core strategy to follow, the key problem to resolve or opportunity to be harnessed. Take a look at how diverse one group's understanding of a "common strategy" is:

// How might we help each student arrive at his or her maximum capacity from the gifts that (s)he has?

// There is always a way for everyone to learn; how might we find that way?

// How might we bring the world into the classroom in order to get every student included in their world?

// How might we give students the chance to participate in their learning through reflection?

// How might we create the kind of environment where joyful learning through participation, creativity and sharing is the norm?

Some are focussed on students' progress, others on equality, others on better formative assessment strategies, others still on a culture of curiosity and creativity. These fives groups came up with five different levels of focus for a "common strategy". And they're not alone - every group I've ever worked with comes up with something similar.

What does it reveal? It shows that there is no such thing as a common strategy. As soon as people are introduced to strategy - something that normally happens AFTER it has been written, incidentally - we suddenly realise that there are STRATEGIES, one for each type of person involved, each strategy giving that group of people a responsibility in delivering their part of the strategy bargain.

If more policy-makers and school leaders started with people at the core of their strategy/-ies, then maybe would see more a-ha! moments of this variety, earlier on in the process. Maybe we could begin to see the emergence of "pod-like" delegated leadership in schools, with people-centred strategy groups looking after every part of the school's community. Surely this is more feasible than one strategy pretending it could ever cater to everyone's needs?

Originally posted on the wonderful NoTosh Facebook page.

Pic of Tidaholm by Pete Hunt (CC)

Dr Alasdair Allan blog – the SCEN event⤴


AlasdairAllan_MSP_20120530The Scotland-China Education Network (SCEN) plays a vital role in maintaining links with this country and the world’s most populous, with a particular emphasis on what we can learn from each other at school level.

I have been very pleased to see the great enthusiasm of many young people from around Scotland for learning about China and Chinese, particularly in the context of our ambitious languages agenda.

This week’s event in Gleneagles saw Mr Zhang Huazhong, Depute Chinese Consul General and Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, former Governor of Hong Kong, join many young people and their teachers, to discuss how to further develop a long-term relationship with China that is based on mutual learning, shared values, partnership and trust.

In Scotland’s schools we are setting an ambitious direction for future language learning and teaching – our 1+2 approach, learning a first additional language and then a second, starting early in primary school. We know this is essential if our young people are to have the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly globalised world.

I feel that Chinese has a key part to play in the future of language learning in Scotland and I believe that with the assistance of SCEN we have come far in recent years. The variety and extent of its work to promote collaboration and mutual learning between Scotland and China, with schools and also with universities and business partners bodes very well for strong future collaboration between our two countries.

I truly believe that young people can and must have a strong voice in shaping their own education. I want young people, students and everyone concerned with language learning to share their views and experiences, so we can ensure the learning opportunities on offer in Scotland are second to none.

Dr Alasdair Allan MSP

Minister for Learning, Science & Scotland’s Languages

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