Author Archives: fearghal

Putting learners’ faces at the core of improvement⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I know I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy for this, but one of the slight tensions you face when you leave daily working in schools is that you’re exposed to lots and lots of interesting ideas but you don’t have the context in which to walk in on a Monday morning and give it a go. I know, smallest violins and all that…


However, I’m currently reading Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence by Lyn Sharratt and Beate Planche, if you haven’t got a copy yet you should totally think about getting one. It’s a great book in that it explores the nature of leading collaborative learning from the level of an education system to classrooms. One of their core ideas in the book is using data walls and putting learners’ faces at the core of collaborative improvement. I’m obviously corrupting their complex and rich research and ideas here to summarise what it’s about…best to read it for yourself!

One idea from the book which I would’ve loved to try is a data wall of learners. As a biology department we could’ve found a space in a base or prep room to clear a wall and stick up a little piece of paper for each student like the ones in the image above. Each piece of paper would have the student’s name, their photo, some prior assessment data and spaces to add assessment data from the learning they are currently undertaking. The wall could be divided into sections such as ‘excelling’, ‘on track’, ‘at risk’, ‘concern’. A big proportion of your weekly departmental meeting would then be spent in front of this wall discussing and moving students, adding data and, most importantly of all, discussing interventions which could be undertaken for those students which are at risk or a concern, or who aren’t yet excelling but could be. These could be added as post-its to the wall and reviewed at future meetings. The book also suggests the provision of case conferences for those students who you’re struggling to find ways of successfully supporting. In the absence of a whole school approach to this a work around could be inviting a member of the SLT, learning support and/or guidance teams to a departmental meeting to join the discussion with a focus on these most challenging learners.

As you can see, I’ve totally envisaged it but with nowhere to give it a go! I think the approach could work in primary also, I’ve just thought it through in the context I know best. I think this sort of approach would have the potential to meaningfully impact upon outcomes for learners and could significantly contribute to closing the attainment gap…it could also go a long way to improve many teachers’ experiences of departmental/stage meetings and make these truly collaborative, supportive, impactful and learner-centred.

If you’d like to discuss this idea further with me with a view to giving it a go, please get in touch, or alternatively have a read of Sharratt & Planche’s book for yourself and devise your own interventions…if you do though, I’d still love to hear about them.

Creative Approaches to Curriculum⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


Yesterday I attended the EFFE’s Creative Approaches to Curriculum Seminar in Edinburgh. Here are some of my notes and thoughts following this event…

Fiona Carnie

The event was introduced by Fiona Carnie, Vice President of EFFE.  She informed us that this event builds on their Improving Social Equity through Education symposium in Edinburgh last year.

She stated that the outcomes from last year’s event included…

  • there is a need to create inclusive and supportive environments for learning.
  • that we need to respect and value teachers and ensure time for teachers to collaborate.
  • how schools are organised are crucial with a need for greater professional autonomy and more distributive forms of leadership.
  • reform is slow and complex. Book recommendation: Finnish Lessons – Progress in Finland have their roots in 1970s policy changes.

Graham Donaldson

Professor Donaldson’s presentation was entitled ‘Ambition and Curriculum Reform’. Some of my notes included…

  • The OECD are beginning to look at supporting the development of curricula.
  • Are we ‘defeating destiny’ in Scottish education?
  • Education is not the same as Qualification.
  • Need to be creating space for engaging learning and teaching.
  • Building the capacity of the teaching profession…changing the approach to educational reform has implications for what it means to be a teacher – move from a training paradigm to a learning paradigm for teachers.
  • The velocity is great. Globalisation, employment, society, education, resources. Technological developments.
  • Nature of learning and teaching process is being changed by technology. This has implications for curriculum and being a teacher.
  • Book recommendation: Average is Over, Tyler Cowan.
  • Report recommendation: Learning to Learn, Learning to Innovate. OECD.
  • “Move from what students should be learning towards what they should become.” Priestley & Biesta, 2014.
  • Tension between ambition and reality of learners’  experiences.
  • Metrics driven short-term reductionism curriculum vortex is where we end up despite our original ambition.
  • Addressing the conundrum:
    • ‘better’ teachers (confidence & capacity to engage with complexity),
    • ‘better’ leadership (is the school actually good, rather than looking good? Relentlessly ambitious with a focus on the children),
    • ‘less’ prescription (much more of the responsibility for high quality learning and teaching rests in the classroom),
    • ‘more’ collaboration (peer to peer learning),
    • ‘rigorous’ accountability (easy for rigour to become rigor mortis)
  • Too many curriculum developers take the ‘McDonald’s approach’ – faithful implementation.
  • First approximation. Explore what’s possible. There isn’t a recipe – strategic exploration.
  • We are ‘…at the end of the beginning’ with CfE.
  • Challenge to close gapS and raise standards without compromising longer-term ambition. An over focus on literacy and numeracy would be unambitious.
  • Strategic exploration of ambitious purposes should supersede faithful implementation of received approaches.
  • ‘Middle’ in the OECD report is more conceptual than structural.

Kari Jørgensen

Kari Jørgensen is a Head Teacher of five schools in Denmark. She shared her own journey and outlined the role of project based in learning in her schools. Of particular interest was the Design to Improve Life tool which teachers in her schools use to structure project-based learning and teach innovation: She finished with the trailer to the film ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ which looks good:

Mike Davies

Mike Davies is a former Head Teacher and works with schools on pedagogic and curriculum renewal. He spoke about his experiences reforming a school as a Head Teacher and how he has then gone on to support similar reforms at Stanley Park High School, where he is now a school governor.

  • There’s no difficulty in envisaging something different, but real difficulty in enacting something different. What role can modelling play in helping?
  • Divided a school of 900 into three small schools.
  • Tartan Curriculum. Deliberately promiscuous.
  • Hellerup. School built around learning, not teaching.
  • Emphasising relationships.
  • A Curriculum that Counts (ATL) resource includes a case study of Stanley Park High School:

Lesley James

Lesley James was Director of Education at the RSA and was heavily involved in the creation of their Opening Minds programmes. She shared the background of the development of the programme and how they’ve gone on to setting up the RSA Academy:

Alan Armstrong

Alan Armstrong is one of Education Scotland’s Strategic Directors. He shared the variety of work which Education Scotland is undertaking to support the development of creativity and digital learning across the system. He made reference to Education Scotland’s 3-18 curriculum impact report – Creativity.

Overall, I left the day struck by the strong interconnectedness between curriculum and leadership. Whilst national curriculum and assessment policies play an important role, the realities of the experiences of learners also depends to a large extent on how these policies are interpreted and implemented by educational professionals working in the system. Senior leaders in schools have a crucial role in creating the culture, contexts and structures to support the creative implementation of curricula, whereas teachers as leaders of pedagogy also play an equally important role in working with colleagues  to make the curriculum real in their classrooms. There were many overlaps between messages from the day and the issues which arose from our recent teacher leadership engagement, however it was useful for me to be reminded of the importance of teacher leadership in the context of developing the curriculum, something which I’ve reflected upon before in a now previous life.


A big move…⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


I’m making a bit of a professional move over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve looked on this blog at all recently, you will already know that I have been on a secondment to the Scottish College for Educational Leadership to engage on teacher leadership across Scotland. This secondment came to an end at Easter, and the report from this work is due to be published in time for the SCEL Conference on the 12th May.

My intention had been to return to school on completion of this secondment, but continue working for SCEL on a part-time basis. However, over the Easter holidays I finally had a bit of time to reflect and realised that I was really enjoying working for SCEL and that following on from the engagement there was a real potential to meaningfully contribute to the development of teacher leadership across Scotland. That’s not an opportunity that comes along very often! I therefore decided that if SCEL would have me full-time, I would be up for staying on. I was delighted to learn that not only was I keen to stay on, SCEL were equally keen to keep me.

For various reasons however, the best way to make this happen was for me to resign my current teaching post and take up a contract with SCEL…which I’ve done. So, I’m currently in the process of working out my notice with my school, with only days remaining. Leaving school is obviously not an easy call to make…especially Preston Lodge High School, which really is a great place to teach. However, being back in school these weeks has really shown me that due to my recent surgery, a secondary school is quite a difficult place physically for me to teach in just now still. So the move makes sense from the perspective of my health just now also.

So, what am I going to do? Well my job title will be ‘Lead Specialist: Teacher Leadership’ and my role will therefore be to respond to the outcomes from my recent teacher leadership engagement work and put things in place to support teachers. Due to the variety of needs expressed during the engagement, there will need to be a variety of activities put in place. SCEL have already focused their first upcoming conference on teacher leadership, but there will be much more happening beyond that. I’m hoping to continue to use this blog to reflect on my practice in my new role…

I don’t know if and when I’ll be returning to the classroom, so I’ve been enjoying these last few weeks with the students…and I’m especially grateful to have had the chance to do lots of heart & lung dissections with one of my current classes in particular! I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t go down too well in the SCEL offices…

To Thursday, or not to Thursday…?⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

In case you haven’t heard, SCEL are holding their first ever conference in May and the focus of this first conference is on teacher leadership. It’s looking like it’s going to be a great day…check it out here.

However, a few folk have been asking…why a Thursday? Especially if the theme is teacher leadership. For many teachers, getting out of school is not easy so the obvious question is why not hold it on a weekend?

This very question was debated long and hard within SCEL and although I was out on the road at the time, I expressed my opinion to the team via email. For me, I felt that the right call for this event was to have it in the week. That might seem surprising if you know me at all given that I was largely responsible for the creation of the Saturday variation on TeachMeets…now largely known as Pedagoo events.

Here’s why I felt that it was best if this event was in the week:

  • Firstly, although many of us in the TeachMeet/Pedagoo/Twitter community are happy to attend events on the weekend, huge numbers of teachers are not, or are not able to. During my time carrying out the engagement on teacher leadership, for every teacher who felt that opportunities like this should be on the weekend there was at least another teacher who felt that it was important that there were events like this in the week as they are unable to give up their weekends for a variety of reasons. This I think was backed up by last year’s BOCSH/SCEL Talking About Learning conference, which largely followed the Pedagoo event model but took place in the week instead of on a Saturday…the interest and turnout was much higher than a Pedagoo event and attracted a much broader audience also.
  • Another key outcome from the teacher leadership engagement was that in order to develop it we’re going to need engagement from those at all levels in the system. Classroom teachers are obviously crucial, but they’re not the only important group. The role of PTs, DHTs, HTs, QIOs and others was raised again and again throughout the engagement and I therefore felt that it was important that the event was midweek to ensure this breadth of participation.
  • This isn’t going to be the only thing SCEL does around teacher leadership. Again, it’s clear from the outcomes from the engagement that this is a complex issue and it’s going to require a variety of different approaches to support. SCEL are planning other activities which will take place in other times in the week, such as twilights and Saturdays. In this context, I therefore think it’s appropriate that this conference is in the week as part of the mix.

As I said, this was debated long and hard at SCEL, and these are just my reasons for having opted for midweek, largely influenced by what I heard whilst carrying out the teacher leadership engagement work. If you’re able to join us, come along and help influence SCEL’s future support for teacher leadership. If you’re not, keep an eye out for SCEL’s future events.


from @ Fearghal Kelly


So, as previously mentioned, I haven’t often reflected on this sort of thing on my blog…but once again I feel the urge to do so. I had an accident years ago in which I badly damaged my ankle…as a result I’ve been undergoing a series of fusion operations in the past few years to deal with the osteoarthritis which had developed.

During the first operation they fused one joint, which left me with quite a lot of mobility still, but I was still in a fair amount of pain as there were other arthritic joints in there. This time, they fused three further joints in the same ankle which seems to have dealt with the arthritis, but left me with significantly decreased mobility. Of course, they told me this in advance…but it’s only really beginning to sink in properly now.

An example of this was last Thursday. I was lucky that as part of my current role I got to attend an excellent and inspiring conference in Glasgow…but attending this event brought my disability to my own attention in a number of ways. For starters, I took the train, which I won’t be rushing to do again. Three trains in one day means having three separate awkward conversations with people sitting in priority seats who don’t need to be. And there’s the feeling of the crowds streaming past me on the platform as I inch my way along a distance which now feels enormous. The venue for the conference itself was great, but the spaces for refreshments and networking were, as they always are, seatless…which means retiring back to the conference room on my own. Even little things like having to choose between a coffee or a cookie, as one of my hands is occupied by a crutch, are a pain!

It was a great conference, but attending it highlighted so many differences between how I am now compared to how I was. Thankfully, my school are being hugely supportive with managing my return to the classroom next month…I think perhaps I need to do more still to manage my own mental transition to this new reality.

As part of this, I really need to be careful with what I commit to – especially the organisation of events. I need to stop organising TeachMeets and Pedagoo events by myself as they’re just dreadful for me physically…if I struggle this much with attending a conference, organising one would be even worse!

With this in mind, I was thinking maybe it would be good to partner up with the organisation of a TeachMeet at some point as mentioned in my previous post? We could have a TeachMeet on the regrowth of TeachMeet? People could present for 7 or 2 minutes on either the benefits of TeachMeet to them, or with ideas for how to regrow the TeachMeet movement in Scotland? It would preferable to me if the event could be in the Edinburgh area. I would be helping with the online and organisation stuff, while whoever volunteered would have to take on the venue and all of that sort of thing. It would be even better if you were someone who had never organised this sort of thing, but were keen to with support…drop me an email if this is you.


from @ Fearghal Kelly

As part of my current role I’ve had the privilege of driving (& flying) around the country and speaking to hundreds of Scotland’s teachers about teacher leadership and what is needed for it to be developed. A common theme that is coming up regularly is the need for more opportunities for classroom teachers to network and share practice. A conversation with someone earlier this week got me to thinking, we used to do that a lot more when we were organising many more TeachMeets than we currently are – hence the tweet above.

That’s not to say there aren’t any TeachMeets happening in Scotland, there are of course, but they used to occur much more frequently. This I feel is a real shame, especially given that TeachMeet originated in Scotland!

So, what could be getting in the way of more TeachMeets being organised? For me, I think the TeachMeet PBWorks site is a barrier to many. It’s now overwhelmed by TeachMeets outwith Scotland, and it’s not straightforward for people to use if they’re not familiar with Wikis – hence the rise of the use of EventBrite in the organisation of TeachMeets. I personally prefer to use Google Forms as this avoids the Wiki problem without going down the ‘Ticket’ route – but I can see why people do.

So, perhaps what would help would be a dedicated TeachMeet Scotland site? Perhaps along the lines of Australia’s version? maybe? The site could have a clear guide for how and why to organise a TeachMeet, it could have an organised structure for finding TeachMeets in your area and an open system for creating TeachMeet event pages with a way for teachers to sign up without the use of EventBrite.

What do you think?

If you’re not keen, why not? What would you do instead to help regrow the Scottish TeachMeet community?

If you think this is a good idea, how & who could do this? Perhaps it could be something Pedagoo could facilitate? The site could be hosted on a subdomain of perhaps? We could seek sponsorship to purchase and have that redirect? If you like the idea in principle but you’re not keen on it being a Pedagoo thing, what would you suggest instead? A separate site would be the obvious solution if you object to it being a Pedagoo thing, but that would bring extra cost and would therefore need extra sponsorship etc [I currently pay for all of Pedagoo’s hosting and domain name registration myself out of my own pocket, I’m not keen on increasing this expense!]

I’m just keen to explore ways of supporting the regrowth of the Scottish TeachMeet community and this is one idea I’ve had to help achieving this…I would welcome your thoughts on this possible approach, or possible alternative approaches!

Would you like to join our Moderator team?⤴

from @

POST TITLE: Pedagoo Moderator LOCATION: Wherever you are. SALARY: £0 BENEFITS: Warm fuzzy glow. How would you like to join our Pedagoo Moderator team? Our small team of Moderators keep the Pedagoo show on the road by… Promoting #PedagooFriday. Encouraging new posts on Moderating and promoting new posts on Managing and growing the Pedagoo […]

SCEL Engage #tellscel⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

Things are proceeding at a pace on my secondment to SCEL! I’m four and half weeks in now…but it seems a lot longer than that! In this time I’ve developed an approach to engaging with teachers and others on teacher leadership and offered to deliver this approach across the country. At the minute I’m busy arranging engagement events with all sorts of different folk across Scotland, which is exciting. I’m only seconded until the end of March so I really need to get cracking as that’s not as far away as I first thought.

I’m planning on regularly updating on progress with the engagement over on, as well as incorporating online engagement approaches through this site also. As a result, I fear that I won’t be updating this blog very much between now and Easter.

If you’d like to be kept up to date on the SCEL teacher leadership engagement work therefore it would probably be best to head on over to and sign up for email updates on that site.


How to engage?⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

So, I’m now two weeks into my secondment with SCEL and what a fortnight it has been!

Given that my job is about teacher leadership, I had obviously started off by reading as much as I could about teacher leadership. But…my job is primarily to be about *engaging* with folk on teacher leadership, so how on earth am I going to do that? I had started with some basic questions which had first occurred to me, but Lesley pointed me in the direction of ULab:

Since then I’ve become engrossed with Theory U by catching up on the ULab MOOC as quickly as possible, and have spent a fair bit of time considering how to use this to inform our approach to engaging on teacher leadership. I’ve now got a plan and I’m excited to be sharing it with @TeamSCEL on Monday morning…

As a result of my exploration of ULab, I’ve also discovered the wonderfully supportive #ulabscot community and have already had opportunities to meet with some interesting folk.

And finally, I’ve now got my SCEL twitter account all set up, please give me a follow: @fearghal_scel

What even is teacher leadership?⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I’m so excited to be joining the SCEL team on secondment to work on developing approaches to supporting the development of teacher leadership. But, when you stop and think about it, that’s quite a colossal task! That’s why I was incredibly relieved when Gillian and Lesley made it clear to me that actually the main purpose of my role is to engage as widely as possibly on ‘teacher leadership’ and then use this engagement to inform the development of approaches to support.

So, I started with my own reflection…

“What is teacher leadership?”

That’s a harder question than you might at first think. Before I tried to answer it I was confident that I knew what teacher leadership was, but now I’m not so sure. Is it being a Principal Teacher? Is it mentoring an NQT? Is it leading a session on an in-service day? Is it leading the learning of your students? Is it being an expert in your subject specialism? Is it being an SQA appointee? Is it sharing your practice in your school, online or at TeachMeets? Is it all of these things? Is it something else entirely? Is it about agency? Is it about autonomy? And if it is all of these things and more, how on earth can we support teachers to develop as leaders? And, crucially, why is it worth supporting teachers to develop as leaders?

And so I’m currently at that stage when you’re starting a new post when your head is full of more questions than answers. As much as I now relish this stage in my learning, I will at some point soon need to move past this stage and take these questions, and more, out and engage as widely as possible.

So, what do you think? What is teacher leadership to you? And how can we go about supporting it? Ideas welcome in the comments below…

In the meantime, did you know SCEL have recently launched their impressive new framework for educational leadership? Check it out now: