Monthly Archives: August 2019

Scottish education on the brink of profound change in professional learning⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

As most schools in Scotland have now returned for the new school session after the summer break, this is a time of great excitement and refocused activity in all schools. Teachers have had the summer break to recover from their exertions, and demands placed on them, during the previous school year, and have no doubt been anticipating the year ahead, as the summer holidays drew to a close.

I was in a Secondary school last Monday working with staff from that school and their feeder primary schools. It was great to feel the buzz and excitement people were generally feeling about the year ahead. Most staff I spoke to articulated how excited they were to get going again, and about the year ahead. I remember that buzz myself from when I was still in school, both as a teacher and headteacher. I never lost that throughout my career, and it is one of the things I miss most about not being in a school, especially at this time of the year.

As children returned over the rest of this week, the sense of excitement has only picked up, amongst  staff and  their learners I have passed numerous schools this week and have seen first hand smiling happy learners in school playgrounds and on their way to, or from, their schools. If we can't all feel excited and positive at this time of the year, will we ever?

One of the most exciting changes and developments I see happening across Scottish education at the moment is around our approach to professional learning. What I have witnessed and experienced this week, has got me excited about not only  about the school year ahead, but also for the future beyond.

Since 2010, when Graham Donaldson wrote 'Teaching Scotland's Future', which looked at initial teacher education and professional learning within the profession, there has been a focus on how we prepare and educate our trainee teachers, as well as on how we support them to keep learning and growing throughout their careers. When he considered the GTCS Standards For Registration, as well as what research was telling us about the most impactful professional learning, with a focus on the impact for learners,  he said that the GTCS should consider refreshed new standards which 'could include pedagogy, up to date subject knowledge and the use of inquiry-based improvement.' All of Donaldson's 51 recommendations were adopted in their entirety by the Scottish government.

He went on to say 'The most successful education systems invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals...who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education, and to be key actors in shaping educational change.'

The GTCS (General Teaching Council Scotland) reflected this when they re-drafted their professional standards in 2012. Amongst the professional values that they identified as important for all educators is one of Professional Commitment, with teachers at all stages of their career 'committing to lifelong enquiry, learning, professional development and leadership as core aspects of professionalism and collaborative practice.'

The new Professional Learning Model, developed by SCEL and Education Scotland in 2018, identifies three key areas for professional learning. These are learning through enquiry, learning through collaboration and learning in order to deepen knowledge and understanding. 

All of these policy, standards and models agree that success of professional learning should be be measured in terms of impact for learners.

I think it is good that we have a policy framework and standards which support enquiry as a key aspect of professional learning. In my experience, policy can either support what we are trying to achieve every day in our classrooms or school, or it can hinder us. In respect to professional learning, I think we have the policy and structures in place to support what we are all trying to achieve. That policy, those standards, and the learning model all emerged out of engagement with research around the most impactful professional learning from across the globe.

That research has consistently shown that learning that is reflective, inquiring, collaborative and context specific, has the greatest impacts for learners at all levels. Professional Learning that increases teacher agency, teacher leadership and develops adaptive expertise, all leads to the development of self-improving teachers, schools and systems, which Donaldson alluded to and which has been called for directly by Fullan, Hargreaves, Timperley and others.

So we have the policy and structures that support a different approach to professional learning, which helps. However, I have always believed that improvement cannot be imposed, either by legislation or top-down direction. True, deep embedded, improvement, and the desire to do so, has to be intrinsic within individuals. What we require from systems and leaders, is to create the conditions and cultures which support and allow such intrinsic dispositions to flourish and grow,

Which is why I am so heartened by what I have experienced and witnessed in the short time that Scottish schools have been back since the summer holidays.The vehicle that we have chosen to connect all these elements of professional learning in Scotland is practitioner enquiry or collaborative enquiry. I was working with the cluster of schools in Falkirk on Monday because they have begun to engage with practitioner enquiry. Some are further down the road of engagement than others, and that is fine, but collectively they have agreed to use practitioner enquiry as the focus of their individual and collective professional learning, and they have committed to this for the long term, not just one school session.

When I returned from this session, exhilarated by what I had seen and heard, I saw on Twitter that other schools, clusters and local authorities were also engaging on their own journey with enquiry. Kate Wall, from Strathclyde University was at Stirling High School talking about how to make practitioner enquiry real in your practice. Fife Professional Learning Team tweeted about their practitioner enquiry professional leaning programme and there were tweets from the East Renfrew PEST team (Practitioner Enquiry Support Team) East and West Lothian have set up a TEN (Teachers as Enquirers Network)support  network, to work with teachers in both authorities who are engaged in enquiry work. Mark Priestley and Valerie Drew, from Stirling University continue to work in schools using their Collaborative Enquiry model, and there is more work happening on the same them from Edinburgh University, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. Add to these the work to support enquiry from SCEL (Scottish College for Educational Leadership), Education Scotland and the GTCS, a head of steam is building up around enquiry across Scotland.

I also had another meeting later in the week with  a lead officer for professional learning and Principal Education Psychologist at East Lothian as we spoke more about practitioner enquiry, and I heard about their own journey and their plans for supporting their schools further with enquiry. We agreed to explore further how we could help teachers and schools, and I could contribute from my own experience and practice.

I have been a long-time advocate, and user, of practitioner enquiry for individual, school and system development, even writing a book about my own experiences and insights. So, to see all this activity and  genuine interest in Scottish schools and system is a delight for me.

This really promises to be a game changer in terms of professional learning and impacts for teachers and learners, and could shift the Scottish system towards my own personal Nirvana, which is the self-improving system, confident in its ability to know its impact and how to keep developing this further. All of this being done because we have a repeatable process that encourages the disposition of self-improvement, with individuals and  a system that are intrinsically motivated to keep developing, with  professional educators who's thinking and practice is research informed, and who understand  themselves and their impacts well. That really would be a game changer!

Obviously we still have a long way to go, but I am encouraged by the road so many are travelling, and we must take the time necessary so that enquiry does not mutate into a lesser version of its original self and purpose. But if we get this right the ultimate beneficiaries should be all our learners, and Scotland itself.

Skype Master Student – Connect Globally to Help Locally⤴

from @ Edu Tech Stories

This post includes what I hope will happen when trying to develop the idea of a Skype Master Student initiative to the stage where it becomes a good idea so that others will get involved and run with.

The next stage is to take Sam Conniff's advice in Be More Pirate and try to engage one of the groups that - for various reasons - is a tough audience for me. 

This post, like my previous one is more cathartic and 'thinking out loud' as much as anything. It details what I would like to happen... but will, no doubt, hit road blocks and/or may take a few attempts.

My own kids' school(s) should not be a tough audience for me - just like this post, like the one I wrote last July, should be a single paragraph:

"I want my kids to be able to make Skype calls at school, to connect with the kind of people that I've been able to connect with... But in order to do that a bit of encouragement and hustle is needed"

But I've found that's not how things work. Four years ago I would have (and did!) scratch my head about how and why it was so tough. Nicole Yershon articulates this very well in her fantastic book about creativity and innovation.

"We were laying the road as we go along and to write a PowerPoint to explain it, is actually quite difficult" Rough Diamond 

So... What if you have ideas but don't have a voice? 

To give just one example... What if you agree with people like Chris van der Kuyl that 'Education lacks leadership*' and agree that you feel there would be a lot of benefits if Scottish Educators were to collaborate more.

However, unlike those who do have a voice, you are not a position to simply give a fancy keynote speech at and think nothing more about it?

(*IMHO the observations from my previous post detail this quite clearly how and where education lacks leadership from policy makers)  

One piece of advice was to 'Keep Telling your Story' but, thanks to the person who gave me this very advice, I've since found that those who do have a voice will take the story and alter it

"You have to be sure to tell your side of the story... Because if you don't, the truth will be invented by other people to get the credit" Nicole Yershon, Rough Diamond 

So it would appear that there are two options...

1) Just give up and conform.

2) Take Susan Cain and Steve Wozniak's advice and start a @LiveQuiet revolution and work alone. 

"Most inventors and enginners I've met are like me - they're shy and they live in their heads. They're almost like artists. In fact the best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an inventions design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don't believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you're that rare engineer who's an inventor and also an artist, I'm going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is : Work alone.You're going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you're working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team." Steve Wozniak via Susan Cain's fantastic book "Quiet"

Work on an idea until it becomes a good idea to 'Flatten the path' and 'Lower the barrier' to help others... until the rationale for the idea is beyond obvious and the value in exploring it no longer needs any explanation at all.
This Comment is pure gold to this particular Pirate!
I've come REALLY close to the first option in the last 12 months, including last week. 

However, a kind word from various groups of people in my network and two experiences with my kids have helped.

The people who have provided a kind word know who they are - if anything happens with this going forward it might not have without your input! TY - The two experiences with my kids are below.

My World of Work Day
Last year there was a "World of Work" day at my 8 year old son's school, and parents were asked if they wanted to get involved. I didn't get involved. The reason?

I "lack presence," I've done the 'stand up and pretend to be an extrovert' stuff on sales calls and at conferences... I'm neither a fan of public speaking and find current sales practices to be so 1980s Gordon Gekko... and, if you take a look at companies that scale well you'll notice that the times they are a changing.

(If you check out my Confessions of an EdTech Salesman from Jan 2014 you'll see that @TolleyA pretty much modeled this at ISTE this year)

Another reason I didn't get involved is because what I was working on wasn't quite ready. 

It is now ready, but the timing might not quite fit in with the schools World of Work Day schedule. So unless a rule or two is broken, they might not hear about the exciting summer that one of their young students has had.

When I picked my son up from school after his World of Work Day, I asked:

Was anyone from Minecraft there?
Was anyone from YouTube there?
Was anyone from Fortnite there?
Was anyone from Pokemon Go there?
Was anyone from Xbox there?
Was anyone from Microsoft there?
Was anyone from Google there?
Was anyone from Apple there?

All games and tech that he likes... answer to each question was 'No' until I get an exasperated 

"Look Dad! No-one from any technology companies were there today! OK!" 

For no reason what's so ever I'll just park this comment from our Right Honourable Education Secratery here

“Our children and young people can access more information at the click of a button than at any point in history” John Swinney, EdTech50 Schools report... along with a link to my previous post: The Choice.

As Twitter highlights all too well, it's easy to criticize and leave things there... complete with a cutting comment or an insult ("Words on a Screen Hurt" Howard Rhiengold Virtual Communities). 

But I asked these things as I felt I was working on a solution to this lack of tech companies at the school's World of Work Day.

When Agent Isaac turned up to Westquarter Primary School on his DigCitSummit SpyQuest Mission Classroom Skype Call to model the movements aim to 'Act Locally; Connect Globally' I envisioned inverting this so that once he had connected globally it would help locally with this very issue.

"When we set  out  to  create  a  community  of  technical scholars  in  Silicon  Valley, there wasn't much here and the rest of the world looked awfully big.  Now a lot of the rest of the  world  is  here" Fred Terman, The Father of Silicon Valley.

The end of this post highlights that we're now ready to go with this as soon as others are ready for the idea.

The Joy of CEX... And Breaking Little Rules
I've delayed writing this post as I knew that if I hit 'publish' I'll see it through, because I would hate to get the support of others only for me to say 

"I'm tired, I've had enough... I'll only get the same results as previous attempts" 

A trip to the game shop CEX with my teenage son at the weekend helped with this. Here's the story...

Teenage son had most of the money for the game he wanted. 

He then had to haggle for the rest in the shop but telling me why he felt he deserved the additional amount he needed (It took a while, it was a fierce negotiation!)

When he secures the additional funds I then see that the game isn't quite age appropriate... Great opportunity for confidence building, thinks me... as well as to encourage a little Be More Pirate rule breaking too.

We're talking about a quiet kid here... a real introvert, he'll avoid things like going up to any counter to pay for something if at all possible, so suggesting that they go up to the counter while breaking a rule?

Well it almost never happened, at one point he put the game away and walked out with the money... talk about cutting your nose to spite your face! Or - more like it - talk about a stubborn streak!!

EVENTUALLY I get him to go back in and give it a go... saying "any problems and I'll go in and get it"

10 minutes later he comes out looking pleased with himself and a little more confident... complete with game in hand and a receipt, then says 

"Well last time I tried to get a game in there they asked for ID and I had to wait 30 mins for Mum to come and get it for me, so you can't blame me for (Being a stroppy, stubborn teenager) not wanting to go up to the counter by myself"

So, like said stroppy teenager, there's a good chance I'm older and wiser too... there's also a good chance that the next project(s) I work on will pan out differently too.

Connect Globally to Help Locally - Rationale, Progress & The Plan
The plan is extremely simple...and is unchanged since the Skype Master Student post I wrote last July:

"I want my kids to be able to make Skype calls at school, to connect with the kind of people that I've been able to connect with... But in order to do that a bit of encouragement and hustle is needed"

Or if you prefer the #EdTech50 Schools report:

“A simple idea that is possible to introduce elsewhere. Good example of becoming a global citizen using Skype” Ysgol Bae Baglan, Port Talbot entry.

I know a student at one of my kids' school who has been busy connecting with people globally and could help with local initiatives like their World of Work day.

In addition to this, if Shane Snow and Sam Conniff are right that Story Telling will be the #1 Business Skill of the next few years and that we should Tell Tall Tales like Blackbeard, we think this one is pretty awesome:

A 7 year old student connecting with @TolleyA in Tennessee and having their work presented at one of the world’s biggest Edu conferences and helping local #EdTech50 entrepreneur @GoutcherD with his @SpyQuest Mission to encourage reluctant readers to explore the world of books.

The Plan
To arrange for some people who have been involved with some of these projects to drop into the school to discuss their World of Work with this young Spy Guy Pirate Piggy and his class and have those who live a little too far to be there in person (But are close to our hearts and never far from our minds) to Skype in to say 'Hello' and discuss their world of work too.

I have 5 main groups in mind, that I think would work well, and would take up about an hour of the school/classes time.

Skype Advocates
This could include Scottish Skype Master Teachers, people from Microsoft/Skype, Virtual Field Trips, Authors or people who are fans of events like the Skypeathon.

This could include people who are Digital Citizenship experts and/or people who are exploring digital transformation/the future of work. People like Nicole Yershon, David Goutcher, Sam Conniff, Mark Babbitt, Susan Bearden among others.

We are seeing all kinds of ways that people are finding a way to make a living with games, whether through Youtube/Twitch or the Fortnite World Cup. Agent Piggy wants to move to Tennessee so he can play Minecraft in class, I am sure there are less drastic (And more affordable!) options... perhaps starting with having people like Immersive Minds Stephen Ried and Global Minecraft Mentors like @TolleyA and experts like Sherry Jones skype in to discuss how they use Minecraft and other games in education.

The Well Beings
Since 2015 I have been looking at the early online community 'The Well' and am delighted to be able to say that some of the members of this community - the Well Beings - are interested in getting involved and would love to skype with more schools and classrooms

SkypeMS Fans
We have a group of people who really like the idea of a 'Skype Master Student' idea to help the Skype Master Teachers to help other classes and schools to make that all important - but, like anything that's new, nerve wracking! - first call.

Date & Venue
In an ideal world the date for this would be the 2nd September as a few people who would like to be involved are available on that date.

I would love for a call like this to take place at one of my own kids' schools... But appreciate that things don't always go to plan. I always try to plan for the best... prepare for the worst.

That's no different as I try to take the Skype Master Student idea from an idea -> to a good idea, by trying to tell the best EdTech Stories that I possibly can... Even if it does involve breaking the odd rule or two ;)  

Some thoughts on extending the LTI Plugin for WordPress⤴

from @ education

I'm making some sort of half-baked effort to clear some posts out of my drafts folder. I'm resigned to the understanding that many will never see the light of day - their time has now passed - but this one is still relevant, and something … Continue reading Some thoughts on extending the LTI Plugin for WordPress

The Choice – Capacity to Love & Hate⤴

from @ Edu Tech Stories

As educators get ready for the back to school preparations I wonder to what extent their endeavors to keep our kids safe online will look like? 

I also wonder if any initiatives might be a little behind the curve... as the landscape has clearly changed.

The underlining message of this post is... If you see a marginalised kid in your school this year, give em a hug!

I joined social media in early 2011 starting with LinkedIn, then Twitter and wrote my first blog post in April 2012. I continue to work on ideas from that first post... in particular around the Lost in the Ghetto 

In 2011 my sons were 9 & 10 years old. Both enjoyed school and, as a family, things were going well for us. 

Today I have two teenagers who are at the end of their school experiences and it's not been a great experience for either... and as a family the wheels came off a little. We're currently picking up the pieces.

So perhaps I am able to empathise with how/why some of these lost kids become a little lost, I can see how this could easily have been one of my kids given the challenges they've faced.

Regarding my experiences with social media it has been fascinating seeing the early potential of collaboration when I first joined -> to seeing where things were heading both in education and in politics in 2014/15 -> to the level of hate that exists today.

This includes the way that our so called political 'leaders' use social media (Not to mention the difference between what they say about issues like online abuse Vs the way they sub-tweet their political adversaries and/or how they turn a blind eye to their support base). 

Policy makers will tell us that 'It's everyone else's fault' and claim they have nothing to do with the discourse of hate online that we find today... which is now spilling onto our streets with extreme groups killing in New Zealand, Dayton and El Paso, to name just a few!

Two weeks ago Dayton and El Paso, last night Portland Antifa protests and today 24 year old Jack Letts loses his UK Citizenship. 

In 2006 Letts would have been 12 years old and 'Every Child Matters' would have been part of his school which included a 'Stay Safe' strand... I wonder what Blair did to keep Letts safe from being radicalised?

Articles like this one saying:

"I think Jack was impressionable, he was very young and I think he was very easily targeted by someone" 

Isn't a ringing endorsement for the 'Things can only get better... Education! Education! Education!" Blair/Brown 'New labour' legacy... but what do they care now that they have their memoirs and lucrative speaking gigs? I bet they care a lot less than Letts' parents do about the situation!


1) Books like The Ten Types of Human (The Octracist Chapter 

2) What US Counter-Terrorism explore in response to threats posed by people like Scottish school girl-turned-ISIS-recruiter Asqa Mahmood 

3) Hearing how some young people who were marginalised in their school life found a sense of belonging on Reddit... a space that we now know that the Alt Right has been using to recruit people for years.

Today the far right are creating their own spaces where people like the New Zealand shooter are praised... When things get to the stage where our kids are on these far right/extremist spaces described in articles like Dark Corners of the Web that Fight to restrain the far-right after Christchurch massacre where messages in their online forums that

"Glorify the New Zealand terrorist as St Tarrant — patron saint of the far right"

It's probably too late!

Which organisation and/or group is doing what to prevent them going onto these sites, in a way that actually works? If the answer is no-one, then who will lead on this? How preventable could this have been with a 12 year old Mahmood, Begum and Letts with the right word from the right teacher? ECM Stay Safe?!

"When you're young a little bit of correction goes a long way" 
Steve Jobs regarding how his 4th Grade Teacher probably kept him out of jail

I have some contrarian thoughts to what many think and includes wondering:

To what extent have we let our young people down as they lack a sense of belonging at home and at school that they feel the need to seek out extremist groups... and find a sense of belonging there?

If it takes a village to raise a child, this kind of reflection is a lot more challenging that simply saying 

"It's the tech companies fault"


"All the blame is on this impressionable/lost teenager and the choices they made" 

Such suggestions would mean that grown ups across the board from policy makers, educators to parents have dropped the ball and let these kids down... Which is a concern given the scale, influence and damage the groups recruiting these kids are doing today.

...Or a testament to the tactics that Bannon and Alt-Right & ISIS recruiters like Mahmood used (See the Google example below).

A twenty year old today who is an angry keyboard warrior and/or who is demonstrating on the streets with whatever colour of shiny flag (Whether Confederate, Star Spangled, Saltire, Union Jack or EU) will have seen numerous governments and their shiny initiatives

Every Child Matters (2006 UK)
The Big Society (2010 UK)
Attainment Gap (Scotland)
Developing the Youth Workforce (2015 Scotland)
Curriculum for Excellence (Scotland)
No Child Left Behind (2008 US)

As well as leaders from diverse backgrounds with Barack Obama and female leaders like Theresa May (But in the case of the UK in actual fact there is actually zero diversity as it's always Oxbridge & Eton types!)

While Alt Right were on Reddit making angry young white men even angrier...

Where were the No Child Left Behind advocates? 
Where was Blair's 'Every Child Matters' proponents when Shamina Begum was in his education system
Where was Cameron and Gove's 'Big Society' when Begum was being recruited by Mahmood? 

Dismissing social media and seeing schools block these services from 2007-2010(ish)... only for the all too familiar Twitter, Youtube and Facebook icons to be prominent on many school webpages a few years later?

Some school policies include that educators are not allowed to follow students on social media... let alone reply to them or send any private messages etc.

I understand the risks with suggestions like this BUT I don't see Alt Right or ISIS recruiters having any issues with engaging with students when they were under ECM's 'Stay Safe,' and today Begum and Letts most certainly are children that were left behind with their UK citizenship revoked... by the very people who were spouting 'Every Child Matters,' 'Things can only get better,' 'Education! Education! Education!,' 'Stay Safe.' 

How much worse could things have been if educators were encouraged and empowered to embrace these tools and engage with their students? Surely no worse than what's happened to Begum, Letts and many other impressionable - and by all accounts vulnerable - teenagers?!

Has my generation taught the youth well enough to prevent another Holocaust from occurring? Or will our hard won freedom capsize in a new sea of hate?

Is a question that Edith Eger asks in the extract below, can policy makers in charge of education really say "Yes" to this question with a straight face and without it being nothing more than Trump's 'Alternative Facts' and #FakeNews?

Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google?
You've probably heard the kind of 'You're stuck in a blender' type interview questions that prospective Google employees were asked... or the 5-6 interviews that Biz Stone had when Ev Williams wanted him on the Blogger team... Or that Page and Brin signed off on every member of staff and have 42 page dossier on each member of staff.

So how does this kind of thing happen at organisations that are so thorough with their recruitment practices?

"Googlers on both sides of the battle lines had become adept at working the refs—baiting colleagues into saying things that might violate the company's code of conduct, then going to human resources to report them. But Googlers on the right were going further, broadcasting snippets of the company's uncensored brawls to the world, and setting up their colleagues for harassment" Three Years of Misery Inside Google

The same as has happened at Twitter and Reddit happened at a company with a stringent hiring process and that had such a great culture that it welcomed diversity and dissent. 

Thanks to Bannon and his mission to unite the far right... Without the proper checks in place this has affected our young people, tech geniuses and politics in the US, UK and elsewhere... Online and now offline too.

(The crazy thing is that in 2014 The SNP/Scot Govt had the same momentum as the far right did, as the same 'network effects' and 'feedback loops' were in place).
What if... There was more pro-action and forward thinking and things like #ForTheWeb and #OnlineHarms were launched a decade ago?

As it is, given some of the topics and comments about them, I am kind of glad that my 16 and 18 year old kids are not on social media today.

But these 'radicalised' kids didn't grow up in a vacuum and it seems a little too easy to vilify all things tech and/or put all the blame on a 15/16 year old and not take a closer look within the 4 walls of our IRL institutions. 

I have just finished Edith Eger's book 'The Choice' and regarding both Digital Citizenship and Citizenship I found the session that Edith had with a 14 year old white supremacist extremely interesting.

This extract is below, followed by others that are relevant regarding the role that bullying, ostracism and kids who are just plain lost and how it contributes to some of the online hatred today.

If you see a kid who's alone this academic year... Give em a hug! (It worked for EDL member Ivan Humble

If you see a kid sharing messages of hate online, I don't understand why educators are not swarming in on the convo to both change the narrative and give them a virtual hug... It IS possible to tone the convo down, I know because I've experimented with this myself. 

(Actually I do know why educators don't do this... Because pushing back on these messages is super scary! Not to mention that there are also reputational issues... especially if kids from your class follow your Tweets. But if it isn't educators who lead on these issues - in their own IRL communities and in their online networks - I can't think of any other group who will... you expect Trump, Farage or Boris to? Given that they employ people like Bannon, Cummings and Banks?? Can't see that happening any time soon, can you?)

The Choice
In the middle of the afternoon we reach Krakow. We will sleep here tonight - or try to. Tomorrow we will take a cab to Auschwitz. Bela wants to tour the Old Town, and I try to pay attention to the medieval architecture, but my mind is too heavy with expectation - a strange mix of promise and dread. We pause outside St Mary's Church to hear the trumpeter play the bejnal that marks the top of every hour. A group of teenage boys jostles past us, joking loudly in Polish, but I don't feel their merriment, I feel anxious. These young men, a little older than my grandchildren, remind me how soon the next generation will come of age. Has my generation taught the youth well enough to prevent another Holocaust from occurring? Or will our hard won freedom capsize in a new sea of hate?

I have had many opportunities to influence young people - my own children and grandchildren, my former students, the audiences I address around the world, individual patients. On the eve of my return to Auschwitz, my responsibility to them feels especially potent. It isn't just for myself that I'm going back. It's for all that ripples out from me.

Do I have what it takes to make a difference? Can I pass on my strength instead of my loss? My love instead of my hatred?

I've been tested before. A fourteen year old boy who had participated in a car theft was sent to me by a judge. The boy wore brown boots, a brown shirt. He leaned his elbow on my desk. He said, "It's time for America to be white again. I'm going to kill all the Jews, all the niggers, all the Mexicans, all the chinks"

I thought I would be sick. I struggled not to run from the room. What is the meaning of this? I wanted to shout. I wanted to shake the boy, say, Who do you think you're talking to? I saw my mother go to the gas chamber. I would have been justified. And maybe it was my job to set him straight, maybe that's why God had sent him my way. To nip his hate in the bud. I could feel the rush of righteousness. It felt good to be angry. Better angry than afraid.

But then I heard a voice within. Find the bigot in you, the voice said. Find the bigot in you.

I tried to silence that voice.I listed my many objections to the very notion that I could be a bigot. I came to America penniless. I used the 'coloured' bathroom in solidarity with my fellow African American factory workers. I marched with Dr Martin Luther King Jr to end segregation. But the voice insisted: Find the bigot in you. Find the part in you that is judging, assigning labels, diminishing another's humanity, making others less than who they are.

The boy continued to rant about the blights to America's purity. My whole being trembled with unease, and I struggled with the inclination to wag my finger, shake my fist, make him accountable for his hate - without being accountable for my own. This boy didn't kill my parents. Withholding my love wouldn't conquer his prejudice.

I prayed for the ability to meet him with love. I thought of Corrie ten Boom, one of the Righteous Gentiles. She and her family resisted Hitler by hiding hundreds of Jews in their home, and she ended up in a concentration camp herself. Her sister perished there - she died in Corrie's arms. Corrie was released due to a clerical error one day before all of the inmates at Ravensbruck were executed. And a few years after the war, she met one of the most vicious guards at her camp, one of the men responsible for her sisters death. She could have spit on him, wished him death, cursed his name. But she prayed for the strength to forgive him, and she took his hands in her own. She says in that moment, the former prisoner clasping the hands of the former guard, she felt the purest most profound love. I tried to find that embrace, that compassion, in my own heart, to fill my eyes with that quality of kindness. I wondered if it was possible that this racist boy had been sent to me so I could learn about unconditional love. What opportunity did I have in this moment? What choice could I make right then that could move me in the direction of love? 

 I had an opportunity to love this young person, just for him, for his singular being and our shared humanity. The opportunity to welcome him to say anything, feel any feeling, without the fear of being judged. I remembered a German family that was stationed for a while at Fort Bliss, how the girl would climb into my lap and call me Oma - Grandma - and this little benediction from a child felt like the answer to the fantasy I'd had as I passed through German towns with Magda and the other inmates, as the children spat at us, when I dreamed of a day when German children would know they didn't have to hate me. And in my own lifetime, that day came to pass. I thought of a statistic I read, that most of the members of white supremacist groups in America lost one of their parents before they were 10 years old. These are lost children looking for an identity, looking for a way to feel strength, to feel like they matter.

And so I gathered myself up and I looked at this young man as lovingly as I could. I said three words: "Tell me more"

I didn't say much more than that during the first visit. I listened. I empathized. He was so much like me after the war. We had both lost our parents - his to neglect and abandonment, mine to death. We both thought of ourselves as damaged goods. In letting go of my judgement, in letting go of my desire for him to be or beleive anything different, by seeing his vulnerability and his yearning for belonging and love, in allowing myself to get past my own fear and anger in order to accept and love him, I was able to give him something his brown shirt and brown boots couldn't - an authentic image of his own worth. When he left my office that day, he didn't know a thing about my history. But he had seen an alternative to hate and prejudice, he was no longer talking about killing, he had shown me a soft smile. And I had taken responsibility that I not perpetuate hostility and blame, that I not bow to hate and say, you are too much for me.

Now, on the eve of my return to prison, I remind myself that each of us has an Adolf Hitler and a Corrie ten Boom within us. We have the capacity to hate and the capacity to love. Which one we reach for - our inner Hitler or inner ten Boom - is up to us" Edith Eger, The Choice.

The Ten Types of Human - The Ostracist
Ostracism threatens our need to feel we belong, that we are worthy of attention - are not invisible. It is a pain, Williams says, 'that keeps on giving.' The reaction to such social rejection can be both fundamental and fierce.

On Wednesday 24th November 2004, it was the first period of the last day of school before Thanksgiving at Valparaiso High School, Indiana.

James Lewerke, a 15 year old class member, offered to close the classroom door and turn off the lights for the video. He stood. His teacher, Ashley Dobis, daughter of the State Representative Chet Dobis, thought he was being polite. Students tended to behave well with her. They liked her. So when Miss Dobis gave permission, Lewerke got up. He was a generally quiet boy with pretty good grades. But when he turned to face the class, Dobis says, 'He just had a look in his eyes.' James Lewerke pulled out a machete and a serrated tree saw.

He slashed 7 of his classmates with the weapons.

As he rushed out of the room, several courageous teachers tackled him. One of them kicked a weapon along the school corridor. Later Lewerke told the police that he targeted his fellow pupils indiscriminately because

'They were all the same to him'

In the aftermath of his rampage, it was reported by the Indianapolis Star that

'He was so invisible at High School this fall that students who sat next to him didn't even know his name'

'To repair the pain of invisibility, we may provoke other people into paying attention to us, to force others to recognize our existence. Ostracism is a thread that weaves through case after case of school violence' Kip Williams

In 2003, Mark Leary and colleagues published meta-analysis of school shootings in the US since 1995. They called it, 'Teasing, Rejection, and Violence.' They found that 87% of incidents had as a major contributory factor acute or chronic social rejection. In that period, 40 children had been shot dead in their school corridors and classrooms.

'They are past wanting to be liked or readmitted into society, they may even want to be immortalised for their actions, even their death. By doing what they're doing they're going to get noticed. They'll be invisible no more'

'When Animals experience extreme physical pain,' Naomi Eisenberger, speaking in Reject, a film about ostracism, says 'one of thier first responses is to attack whatever's nearby. This sheds some light on why people may be aggressive after they feel rejected. The extent to which there's some overlap between the system that regulates physical pain and the system regulating pain of rejection, means people may become aggressive in response to social rejection'

'I'm not insane, I'm angry' Luke Woodham, 16, to psychiatrists when arrested in 1997 for opening fire with a hunting rifle in a cafeteria at Pearl High School, Mississippi. He killed two, wounded seven.

'All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, beaten, hated'

...Cognative systems are likely to have developed to solve recurring vital survival problems, including the problems of group living. Deviance from the norm may trigger similar systems to those directed at distancing from contagion. Group members who loyally hold onto the pervasive group norm avoid individuals who depart from or transgress it in a similar way to that in which they avoid disease-bearers. As such, ostracism amounts to a social isolation which can be viewed as a kind of quarantine, with the ultimate sanction being total group isolation.

As it floated and shimmered through the air towards him, the Frisbee that changed Kip William's intellectual life carried with it a message about human communication and connection. Of course, tossing a ball or a Frisbee by oneself can provide the same aerobic and energetic workout, more so if we wish. It's just not phenomenologically rewarding for humans - at least some of the time. But simultaneously, we have a residual, often unvoiced, fear of the fun stopping, of it being taken away, of our being unfriended, unfollowed.

What is all this for?

Beyond a few, relatively rare exceptions, most of us need the impromptu Frisbee games of life with strangers. The opportunity for fruitful future interaction means that the sting of social rejection may be an avoidance adaptation to encourage steering clear of behaviors that lead to exclusion, a method for promoting social bonds. In broad agreement, Williams says,

'I think it has an evolutionary basis. We have evolved as social animals, and it's important for the survival of a social animal to maintain a connection with others. So we are wired to detect hints that we could lose it.'

But that group connection is not free, it comes at a cost.

Groups have norms - rules. Ostracism or its threat operates as a form of social control, the enforcement of norm conformity - even if it is not fair or equitable, even if it is pathological and harmful. The power of ostracism derives from its targeting of our vulnerabilities and insecurities: The fear of not belonging - ultimately, of being alone.

'So as we have seen, interesting patterns of behavioral responses to ostracism. For many people, they will conform more to a unanimous group, even if that group is clearly wrong in their perceptional judgments. They will go along with it. They will be more likely to comply, to obey a command' Kip Williams

In other words, they become more susceptible to social influence, to avoid, as Williams puts it, the 'kiss of social death'

We ostracize; we are ostracized. We are the Ostraciser; we are it's victim. Ostracism lances surgically straight into our mind. Neural systems fire; avoidance systems are engaged; social pain feels like real pain. It is real. Whether the mental module has developed independently or recruited pre-existing systems for physical pain, we are constantly alive to its signals. Acceptance, rejection, they matter. Rejection can lead to serrated tree saws in the classroom; blooded knives being kicked along school corridors; the slashing of wrists after a reality TV eviction; a well meaning boy like Joshua Unsworth walking quietly out of his parents farmhouse and into the trees.(For more extracts see 
Bullies, 'Takers' & Ostracism)

New Power

"The Reddit world is made up of its users, who skew young, male, and geeky, and do the upvoting, linking and commenting...In the months prior to the #RedditRevolt the CEO had tried to create new rules to shut down offensive content and hate speech on the site. Predictably, this had clashed with the somewhat outlaw, libertarian ethos of Reddit. Many suspected these efforts were not driven by a moment of moral awakening but rather were an effort to clean  up the site so it could be more easily monetised for advertisers. The speech that the CEO was targeting was extreme: Revenge porn, attacking transgender people, white supremacists... It was also easy to sense gender dynamics at play on a platform whose users were mostly male" 

"Brian recalls why he chose to become a volunteer moderator when the site introduced them 'You got to build a community. You build a policy structure that keeps it thriving, keeps it going. That's why Reddit was successful. You feel like you own it"

Courtnie talks about her identity as a super users like this: 'Reddit is my community center, it's my YMCA'"

Asqa Mahmood
"After these false starts, the United States began to realise it needed to take a different approach. CSCC coordinator Alberto Fernandez laid out a new direction, speaking to Congress in 2015:

"You need to find a way to form loose, open source communities of interest or swarms that can swarm back and push back against the ISIS message. It's not an impossible thing to do. It can be done"

The new inter-agency Global Engagement Centre is trying to make this happen. Discarding the top down hectoring tone of the Think Again Turn Away campaign, the centre is trying to build a "Network of positive messengers" to share not just counter narratives, but alternative narratives drawing people away for more extreme positions, amplifying the messages of its partners, from religious leaders to schools.

One promising effort is the P2P (Peer-to-peer) Challenging Extremism competition, which partners with Facebook and hundreds of universities around the world. The brief here is loose: students come up with creative ways to 

"Push back on online hate, prejudice and extremism while empowering their peers"

A group of Finnish students launched a movement of pop-up restaurants where asylum seekers shared their native foods with locals. A US team created a Snap Chat campaign. A class from Azerbaijan created a tolerance toolkit for teachers to use in the classroom. .(For more extracts and thoughts about this in relation to Glasgow see ACEing Made to Stick - An Extensible New Power Essay)

Do grades really matter?⤴


This week marked the start of the a level results being issued whilst over a week ago the Scottish higher results were issued. And if as predicted, it leads to a greater focus on the number and type of candidates gaining entry to university, is it now time for a rethink?

Interestingly, English students go to school to collect their results, knowing that if things don’t go quite as planned there is support at hand with advice and back up plans able to be put swiftly in place. Conversely, the Scottish system has evolved where most young people receive a text or letter through the post. Any support and advice is generally provided by skills development Scotland rather than school based staff. Although most schools will retain a support offering for students to discuss course choice changes and provide advice.

However, as various announcements are made by political parties about the suitability of the university entries system and suggestions made on how to improve it. Labour propose students receiving an offer based on actual grades once the exam results have been published. Presumably, this would lead to university terms starting later or exams being brought forward into March or April to allow time for results, offers and university places to be accepted.

But isn’t there a better way? Should students who want to go to university simply be allowed to attend, assuming they have provided evidence that they can attain. Maybe not necessarily requiring a grade to join. This would mean universities changing their competitive approach to higher education. However, would quality be reduced? Or would students from disadvantaged backgrounds be more able to gain entry to university?

Would this lead to the suggested devaluing of the National 4 qualification which has a pass/fail approach. I’m not sure it would. I think that have an external, final exam was retained then we would retain the integrity of the qualification.

Would this also ensure that all students continue working hard right up until the end. Reports suggest that some students do not exert the same effort when they receive an unconditional offer. This is despite the fact that the university is making the offer based on the application submitted and the subjects studied being detailed on the application.

Overall, we should consider refocusing the timings of exams, results and university offers so that offers are received towards the end of the academic year. I am not sure the Scottish education system is quite ready yet for a pass/fail approach to higher and subsequent entry into university.




50 years alive.

The 13th of August 2019.

Unlucky 13 for some.

And sometimes has been for me.

The 13th birthday when I trapped my finger in a supermarket door

and lost the nail.

That 13th of August when my fantastic A level results made me cry because

they weren’t enough.

But superstition is a cunning strategy of the mind that helps us to find patterns and answers

when maybe there are none.

More lucky than unlucky without doubt.

Lucky particularly to be here after some other strategies of the mind that weren’t as cunning.

50 not out.

But remind me again of the rules of cricket….

Who’s winning?

I am, for sure.

Episode 16 – An EduBlether with David Cameron⤴


In this wide ranging interview, David Cameron shares his thoughts, experiences and wisdom. An exhilarating interview.

Listen to Episode 16 – An EduBlether with David Cameron.