Author Archives: George Gilchrist

When a collaborative is not collaborating⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

In a recent paper, 'Seven reasons why Scottish education is under-performing', Walter Humes an honorary professor at Stirling University, identified key reasons why he thought the education system in Scotland was facing a period of uncertainty and challenge to its identity and effectiveness. The reasons he identified were quite damming and seemed to cause quite a bit of angst amongst many in the system, some of whom were quick to attack Humes' disparaging of the system, and the reasons he identified for this. The seven factors he thought were contributing to the struggles of the system were; Failure to learn from the past, Poor political leadership, A complacent and self-regarding policy community, Lack of up- to-date independent data, defensive and protectionist professional attitudes, Boastful and sentimental language, and A deep vein of anti-intellectualism.

There is no wonder hackles were raised following the publication and explanation of his list of failings. Some rushed to defend themselves, and others, whilst others did as Hume asked and began to think carefully about the reasons that might lie behind the apparent deterioration of the system's performance. Given that he published his article on the Sceptical Scot online platform, which seeks to stimulate debate about Scotland its culture and politics, you would expect getting people to think and debate what he was saying, was at least the basic aim of his paper. As he acknowledged in his introduction 'If we are to make real progress we need to be frank about these, however uncomfortable they may be.' I agree entirely with him in that respect. The first step to improvement and development is a recognition of what the issues are and where we might do better. Burying our heads in in the metaphorical sands of complacency and self-congratulatory mindsets, does ourselves and our learners little good. There is much that we do in Scotland that is excellent and we should never lose sight of that, but we also have to admit and recognise the areas where we can do better. My own stance has always been that we should start from, and build on, the things we do well to help us develop those areas we know we could do better. What works for schools, also works for systems.

Adding further explanation to his identification of their being 'a complacent and self-regarding policy community' he describes a 'cosy' culture that often exists, where 'outsiders' who dare to criticise or question policy can be quickly marginalised, or ignored. Such a culture promotes conformity with members on the inside reassuring themselves that they are doing a good job, whilst protecting their existing territories. Elsewhere, he notes that 'Too many ministers have mistaken spectacle for substance.' Ouch!

Move forward a few weeks and we find an article in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland (TESS) by Henry Hepburn that perhaps illustrates some of the problems identified by Humes. In 'Northern what? Alliance proves to be anonymous' Henry writes about the Northern Alliance, a collaboration of eight councils around education in the north of Scotland. He reports that the Education and Skills Committee had left Holyrood and had visited one of the council areas to look at some of what was being achieved by this much lauded amalgamation councils and their focus on education. John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Scottish Government, has used this Northern Alliance as an example of collaborative working that he wishes all local authorities to engage with, and it was the blueprint for new Regional Improvement Collaborative (RICs) he has rolled out across the country. Indeed, the former head of the Northern Alliance, Gayle Gorman, has recently been appointed the new CEO of Education Scotland, and Chief inspector of Schools, charged with delivering the government's vision.

However, what the Education and Skills committee members found was a picture that didn't exactly match a lot of the rhetoric that had come from the Minister and his representatives. In the area they visited, Aberdeenshire, they found teachers and other education staff who had not heard of the Northern Alliance, despite it being in existence since 2015. A focus group of headteachers stated they were 'unclear' as to the impact of the Alliance, and some suggested there was little 'buy in' to the work of the Alliance. The leader for education in the authority admitted that it was 'true' that teachers knew little of the work of the Alliance, and that school leaders still identified with their local authority rather than the Alliance, and this was what was to be expected. Others, also at Director level, rushed to defend the work of the Alliance, indicating that this was just a case of 'lack of awareness' on behalf of staff, but that they were sure it was having an impact in schools and for learners. It is presumed this is their own evaluation, rather than the result of any external validation.

I know there has been lots of work going on across the Northern Alliance, and I live in the very south of Scotland. I know this from Twitter feeds, Blogs and conversations with colleagues. But, the trouble is, so many teachers and school leaders still have no presence on social media platforms like this. Therefore, no matter what work the Alliance is engaged in, its impact will only be as wide as its ability to involve and communicate this with all its members, and this will be a major issue for all RICs. 'Cascade' models of sharing professional development insights have many limitations and are far from ideal. 

There is no doubt that this was just a snapshot of one council area, out of eight in the Alliance, and that the results might differ in other areas. They probably will now, as I am sure the word has gone out in the other areas to make sure everyone knows they are part of the Northern Alliance. I also suspect one of the first steps the other RICs will take is to make sure all teachers and eduation staff know which one they are now a part of. But, it does illustrate some of the points Walter Humes was trying to make in his article. We can be very quick to attribute success to political policy, on the flimsiest of evidence, and within very short time scales. Dissenting voices, or those who just want to question the 'evidence' can be quickly and too easily dismissed in the push for conformity and compliance. All of which leads to the perpetuation of poor decision making, lack of reliable data and more derision of any intellectual engagement or challenge from with the system. Such models can also perpetuate the 'handing down' of policy decisions from above with schools and teachers still viewed as the deliverers.

None of this is healthy, and Walter is right to challenge what he sees happening, in the hope that we may all stop and think, instead of rushing headlong into more mistakes and busyness, which may have little positive impact for the system as a whole, or for individual learners. There is no doubt that focused collaboration is key to system development. For this to have impact takes time, so that all key stakeholders are part of the collaboration, and are not sitting oblivious to collaboration taking place. Such collaboration has to be focused on learning and teaching, as well as supporting teachers to enquire into their practice and their impact on learning, not the creation of more structures or policy. If teachers and education staff are not aware they are part of an educational collaborative, then it can hardly be described as collaborative. Of course, all those same colleagues will be collaborating meaningfully each day in their roles, it will be part of what they do. RICs are designed to provide a structure to ensure collaboration on a wider level, when really its a culture that is more important than any imposed structure. If we ignore culture, and working collectively at meaningful collaboration, that includes all stakeholders, the new collaboratives are doomed to failure. It is to be hoped that those who sit on these new bodies, understand this and are clear about how they can go about supporting school leaders, teachers and others to be the best they can be.

As a former school leader, I also recognise that many of the issues identified by Walter can equally apply to the leadership of schools. My last post on this Blog was about the 'bubbles' we can all exist comfortably in, and it is easy for schools and their leaders to convince themselves that every thing they do is wonderful in their establishments. We need to challenge that as well. The problems we can identify in any system can be micro as well as macro in nature. When we look at the issues around the Northern Alliance, how many of these might be mirrored in individual schools? I still hear anecdotally about schools where the staff and parents have had no involvement in the production of improvement plans, before they are presented to them by the headteacher or school leadership. Equally, the issues identified are not just confined to Scotland and the Scottish system, and I am sure colleagues in other countries and systems will find much that is similar to their own experiences.

First step to any improvement, at any level, is to identify the issues, then we can collaborate to identify solutions and share insights. 

Bursting bubbles!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

When I first stepped away from my busy life of work as headteacher of two primary schools, I started to notice different things I was either unaware of, or perhaps had just lost sight of, whilst so much of my focus was consumed by my leadership role. Joni Mitchell sung 'you don't know what you have got till its gone' in her song 'Big Yellow Taxi' and I was experiencing something similar, now  that I was released from the busyness of my professional role. Only, for me, it was more a case of me finding out 'what I didn't know was there, till I had the time to notice.' Would have made for a slightly different song, but the sentiments were similar. Whilst Joni pointed out in her song the sort of things we all take for granted, and don't realise we have them till they disappear, I was discovering a whole new world of existence that had little to do with work or schools. It was only now that I had the time and space to notice them. I hadn't lost anything, I was just re-discovering things that were always there, had I had the time to notice them. I had emerged from the 'bubble' of my previous existence to discover lots of other 'bubbles' that I never had time to appreciate before.

One of these was that there is a whole world of people and activity that goes on each day, which is outside of the routines and world of work, schools and education, but which is an important part of millions of peoples' lives. When you are enmeshed in the world of work, schools and education, it is very easy to slip into the mindset that thinks 'so is everyone else.' They are not. Far from it. It was when I was freed from the day to day fervour of my role, that I began to recognise that there was a whole other way that many people spent their time and lived their lives. Shock! I now had time to get out and about during the daytime, and no longer had to squeeze other activities into the end of another busy day or precious weekends. I expected to find shops, cafes, galleries, the countryside a lot quieter than I was used to, whilst trying to fit them into my busy work patterns, but they weren't. They were just different.

Whilst I existed in the 'bubble' of my demanding working life, when I found the time to fleetingly think about the world outside, I tended to think everyone else was also inside their own particular work 'bubble' with associated routines, actions and thinking. What I discovered now, was that there was a whole different world of existence that had nothing to do with work or busyness. Places I wanted to visit were still busy, but now the people in them tended to fall into two different age groups. There were the older members, who had obviously retired or semi-retired like myself and were enjoying their new found freedoms, and their were younger, usually female, members who had very young children, too young for school yet. Obviously this is a gross generalisation, but I think it generally holds true, except at holiday times when the population becomes more multi-generational again.

However, this did set me thinking about the 'bubbles' we spend our lives in,  either deliberately or due to circumstances, whilst we are at work, and elsewhere. One of my mantras to staff when I was still a school leader was 'never assume what goes on in your classroom or school, or even what you think, is the same as what goes on in other classrooms and schools.' We can be very guilty, as teachers or school leaders, of existing in a  professional and personal 'bubble', which assumes what we think and experience is the same as what everyone else is thinking and experiencing, after all we are all in the same profession delivering similar curricular experiences. Teachers and school leaders are all different, as is their thinking, practice and context. Yes, there are lots of similarities, but each person and context brings a different dynamic, perceptions and behaviours.

When I began to think more about this, I recognised that we all carry around with us our own personal 'bubble' of thoughts, perceptions, views, experiences and internal voices, and that these can be difficult to break out of at times. Our personal 'bubble' of existence shapes our actions and our engagement with other 'bubbles' we create, inhabit or come into contact with, as we go about our professional and personal lives. Each person's is unique, ensuring each one has different perceptions and understandings about everything. Even when we experience the same activities and stimuli at the same time, each persons perception and understanding of those will be different.This is why life and social interactions can be so complicated, and why school development can be so complex, with no guarantees of success. It is also why we need to engage with as many different people and organisations and their particular 'bubbles' of existence, in order to make our own better informed and more collaborative in nature, if not obsolete.

Recognising the 'bubbles' that exist and which we inhabit, through our thinking or our actions, is the first step in being able to step outside of them, to help us develop different perceptions, thinking and action. As a school leader, I always encouraged collaboration and openness to help individuals explore different ways of being. It is only through exposure to different thinking and practice, whether this be through direct contact or through reading and research, that we can hope to develop and expand our own. After all, we are all standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, as well as with each other, and to do that we need to engage with and consider the actions and thinking of others, so that we can become better versions of ourselves. Doing that requires us to break free from the 'bubbles' that exist, give us comfort, and stop us from growing. Fullan characterised this as the 'silos of practice' in education, which need to be broken down so that we can engage in powerful and focused collaborative practices.

We will all still have our 'bubbles' but some are larger than others, with more connections. I think we will retain these as a way of dealing with the complexity of life, and not be overwhelmed by all that is happening and all we have to do, but that we should look to enhance them rather than using them solely for protection purposes. Knowing they are there and seeking to step outside of them, should be a healthy disposition for us all, personally and professionally. If we stay inside our own particular 'bubbles' we constrict ourselves in so many ways and may well miss opportunities to grow and to develop informative and helpful new connections. It is only through growth and development of each individual school teacher and leader, that our schools and systems can hope to grow and develop. For that to happen, this needs to be a co-operative and collaborative endeavour.

Just as I discovered a whole new world when I stepped away from day to day engagement with the schools I used to lead, so can individuals and schools discover new possibilities by stepping outside of their own particular 'bubbles' and begin to build connections and practice for focused collaboration with others seeking to do the same. Many of the most important insights I gained as a school leader occurred when I was able to step away from the busyness of every day, and visit other settings or engage with colleagues and other educationalists, who all had their own perceptions and insights to share, to help enrich my own. Life is for living and professional development is for growing. You let yourself down by staying inside a 'bubble' of comfort and safety. We all need to step outside of those 'bubbles' to grow bigger and better ones, which support everyone to live, grow and to release their full potential, individually and collectively. This is just as true professionally as it is personally.

What are the 'bubbles' that support and constrict you and what you do? It may be time you burst one or two.

Who is controlling your time?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Both as a school leader and as a teacher, time is precious. Teaching and leadership can become all consuming passions that devour time relentlessly, professional and personal, if you let it. It doesn't have to be that way, neither should we expect or accept this as 'just part of the job.' Being continually busy, feeling that there are not enough hours in the day to do all that needs doing, is neither desirable or sustainable. I am tired of reading and hearing of teachers and school leaders lamenting undeliverable workload expectations as well as the costs to them, their schools and their families.

I am sure it has not escaped anyone's notice, but we have a staffing crisis in education and our schools. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways. Firstly we cannot attract enough high quality candidates into our profession or universities. Secondly, when we do attract people, we then struggle to retain them. The fall-out rates for recently qualified teachers in their first five years is high, and not getting any better. It was reported in 2016 that 30% of teachers who had qualified in 2010, in England, had quit by 2015. Retention rates for Teach First entrants are even worse. Thirdly, we are finding it more and more difficult to attract the ones that do remain into applying for leadership positions. All of this leads to more schools and classes having no teachers to fill vacancies, especially in key STEM subjects, and a dearth of quality candidates for leadership positions. This puts enormous pressures on those that do remain, and can also lead to some being thrust into teaching and leadership roles without the proper preparation, education and training, resulting in more pressure for them, schools and the system. This is  like Heller's 'Catch 22' for education.

There is no doubt that the reasons for these issues are multi-faceted, and include teacher working conditions, pay and unreasonable expectations by those within and outside the system. However, I think it is workload issues, perceived and real, that are perhaps the key factors that need to be addressed, and are perhaps the easiest to fix.

With every new curricula change, new policy, new governments or ministers, comes a lot of change and bureaucracy adding to the workload burden of schools, teachers and their leaders. It has always been thus, certainly since I first entered education in the 1970s. Another constant during that time has been requests from teachers, unions and some school leaders to slow down the pace of change, think about the workload implications, and to give teachers and schools time to embed a new change, before the next one comes cascading down. In my experience, this has never been achieved. Another factor that has also ratchetted up workload is that of 'accountability', which seems to have taken over as the key driver in many of our schools and systems. As a result, we have a situation where teachers and schools now are experiencing change and workloads on a scale never before experienced by the profession, unless you teach in Finland! Added to that, is the pressure and consequences of the high-stakes accountability measures and approaches. All this can leave teachers and leaders frazzled and feeling under-appreciated and not listened to.

This has to stop, and the people who can stop it are ourselves. Teachers and school leaders have to take back control of what is happening in their schools and classrooms.

Teaching and school leadership is demanding, there is no denying this, but both roles have to be manageable and sustainable, otherwise the system is not sustainable and continues to fail many of our learners. If no-one from outside our schools is prepared to carry out the gate-keeping and prioritising role, that we have long asked for, then we have to do it ourselves. School leaders and teachers are the ones who really know their schools and understand their context deeply, therefore it should be down to them to set the development agenda for those schools themselves, not have this imposed by others from outside. Being close to their teachers also allows them to understand the time implications for them in delivering on the 'day job' of teaching classes of young learners, and the demands on time that alone entails.

I am not saying that each school and individual teachers should be free to do whatever they wish, what I am saying is that, within national and local priorities, schools and their leaders are the ones best placed to identify and prioritise the necessary actions they need to take. These will be identified from their self-evaluation processes, with reference to national priorities. They are the ones however, who need to protect themselves, and their learners, from all that they are being told from outside that they should be focusing on. School leaders and their teams have to identify what their priorities are, and most importantly what is deliverable and sustainable within a reasonable working week for all. The best school leaders recognise that everything they wish to achieve is down to teachers and other staff being able to deliver. To do this properly they need to want to (hearts and minds) and need to be supported to do so, with proper provision and notice of their well-being taken account of.

Schools themselves need to set their improvement agendas, with support and collaboration from others, and these need to be deliverable in the timeframe available, then measured in terms of impact for learners. They will still be busy, but it will be a managed busyness, not a constant sandstorm of busyness, leaving no time to see or assess impact, or make adjustments. Schools and teachers will be getting better incrementally, year on year, change will be deep and sustainable, embedded into practice and thinking of all.

Such a scenario is not flashy or headline grabbing, but it is realistic and deliverable in producing learning cultures, and development, that is relentless and built into the DNA of schools and individuals. I would also argue that it is the only way that can produce sustainable workloads, built into everyday working, that gives individuals and schools time to reflect and manage change for the better, instead of continuing to drive headlong into more poorly thought out changes and busyness.

We really cannot wait any longer for our political and system leaders to recognise that this is what has to happen. We have to do it ourselves. The cost of not taking such an approach is ever increasing demands and expectations, that are just not deliverable in the real world. Politicians, and some system leaders who are only focused on career-progression, will still demand short-term headline grabbing change and busyness, but we, who are in education for the long haul, for the difference it can make to so many lives, have to control what we can control. The first thing we can all control is how we spend our time, and the impact that has for all our learners.

Lemmings of despair?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

High-impact and effective leadership is not easy. Having said that, it should be recognised that leadership is crucial to the success of schools and education systems. Here in Scotland the government's current proposals for system reform, no matter what you think about a lot of the detail contained in their ongoing 'consultation', does recognise the crucial importance of leadership to the success of our schools. So much so that a Headteachers' Charter is part of their proposals. I suppose there should be no surprise in the primacy identified in leadership given the composition of the government's own panel of international education advisors, including as it does Andy Hargreaves, Alma Harris, Carol Campbell, Chris Chapman, Graham Donaldson, Pasi Sahlberg and Pak Tee Ng, all of whom have written and researched about the importance of leadership, at all levels, in schools and systems. Of course, as with most government policy, there is another agenda that is to yet reveal itself, which may have more to do with control and more direction for school leaders from above, but there is no doubt that leadership is seen as crucial in our schools and across the system.

In this post I am thinking mainly about Headteacher or Principal roles in our schools. Though we should never lose sight of the importance of teacher leadership as well as other formal leadership roles, and their importance to the wellbeing of our schools and systems. Having stepped down from my own position as a school leader in 2017, I have had the opportunity to consider my own role and performance as a school leader over eighteen years, as well as the reading and research I have engaged with around leadership during my time as a leader, and since. The basis of this post is a talk I was asked to give on leadership to school leaders. I never actually delivered the talk but came upon the slides and messages I prepared just the other day, and thought I would share some of them on here.

As a leader we can sometimes act like lemmings. We are swept away by the crowd round about us and all the activity that everyone mimics, heading full pelt towards our inevitable fate. We are all incredibly busy, and being busy sometimes can stop us from getting our heads up to consider where we are actually heading. As a school, and as a leader, being busy is not enough. We have to think about impact. No, not that at the bottom of the cliff that our lemming analogy points us towards, but our impact for our learners and communities in the schools we lead. To do that, I have always contended, that we need to get our heads up to see what is coming and to plan a way forward, as well as to see what is happening currently. It is important that we are always asking the questions, what is the impact for our learners, staff and ourselves of all this busyness? If it is not positive, the sooner we stop doing it, the better for everyone and the less the likelihood of everyone disappearing over some metaphorical cliff edge.

I, and many others, have recognised the importance of relationships in human organisations and systems like schools, for them to have the greatest positive impacts for all their members. The Scottish government produced a document in 2012 entitled 'Better Relationships, Better Learning, Better Behaviour'. Whilst this was document was aimed at pupil behaviour, it did recognise the importance of positive relationships to all aspects of school work. This always seemed a no-brainer to myself and most primary school educators, so it can be disturbing when we see some of the approaches that are taken by some of our secondary school colleagues. As a school leader, you neglect the importance of positive relationships in all that you are trying to achieve. Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan explored this further in 1998 in 'What's Worth Fighting For Out There?' In an article for the National College for School Leadership, written in 2002, Alama Harris noted in her study of a group of secondary schools in challenging circumstances 'The empirical evidence from teachers, senior managers, pupils and headteachers point towards a model of leadership that is fundamentally concerned with building positive relationships and empowering others to lead.' (Busyness, or intiativitis as Michael Fullan has called it, puts relationships at risk and may in fact find little time or importance attached to them. As school leaders, we need to think about the implications of this.

Relationships are amongst the important key areas that school leaders need to focus on, and they permeate everything else we are trying to achieve.. Others I have identified would include the following; Keeping the main thing the main thing. The main thing is always learning and teaching, and we should ensure that all that we are doing, or are focused on, deals with this in a completely holistic way. We are aiming to develop the whole learner, so our systems, structures, practice, values and attitudes should all reflect and contribute to this aim. Be driven by your values. It is easy to speak of values, or to even write them down or display them. However, if you are not living them, or bringing them alive in all our actions and inter-actions, they are not your true values. We have to avoid agendas driven by others, driven by data, driven by research, driven by test results, etc. All of these are important and they should help inform our actions. It is our values that should be the true touchstone for our leadership actions and decisions. Build trust. It is crucial that school leaders build trust across the whole school community. The impact of a lack of trust includes surface-level compliance and a lack of innovation or taking of risks. Without these characteristics, it is hard for any school to move forward in any meaningful way, no matter how you might like to 'spin' you story. Seek to develop and promote teacher agency and adaptive expertise. As a school leader, you cannot do it all yourself, but as a coherent and collaborative team you can achieve much. When staff have true agency and adaptive expertise, you are equipping them to be self-improving practitioners, which in turn develops into a self-improving school culture. On the back of this you will find that you the development of teacher leadership and dispersed leadership easier to achieve, with benefits for individuals as well as for the school as a whole. Promote and develop collaborative and collegiate cultures. The school leaders has a responsibility to help coalesce the individual and disparate talents and expertise of the school team into a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts, the gestalt of school development. Gate-keep on behalf of your staff. I gave up a long time ago waiting on someone from above in the educational establishment and hierarchy to recognise that not every issue or idea can be immediately cascaded down onto schools and their teachers. Therefore, I decided I needed to protect staff from the constant stream of demands and expectations from elsewhere. We achieved this by referring to our values and sticking strictly to our School Improvement Plan, which became smaller and more focused as I developed my own practice in this respect. Be informed by research and data. School leaders need to know how to critically engage with research and data to help inform their actions, which will be context specific. I have always believed that all teachers, never mind their leaders, should read and engage with research, otherwise they are subject to the demands and whims of others constantly. As a professional, you should be able to explain your actions and decisions based on sound research, informed by school data. As with everything, you have to be realistic in this and keep your engagement proportionate and manageable. Support and be an active participant in professional development activities. If we want to develop as individuals and as a school, we should commit to a career-long engagement with professional development. This does not mean going on, or sending people on, lots of courses. This should be grounded in your particular context and measured in terms of improvement for learners. Be professionally curious. it is important that school leaders do not get swamped by all they have to do, so that they do not have time to be curious about their role and their impact. Professional curiosity can lead to major insights and development, which is self-initiated rather than imposed or directed by others. Lead more than manage. There is no doubt that to be an effective school leader, you also have to be an effective manager. The trouble is, we can devote all of our working day, and more, to management activities, so that their is no time left to lead. As a school leader you have a responsibility to act leaderly, to do that you have to think in a leaderly way. You role is bigger than the here and now, you have to consider and prepare for the future, and to how you can deliver on your vision for your school community. Despite all of these aspects you have to think about and deal with, slow down! One of the insights I gained as a school leader is that by slowing down it is possible to achieve more, and your achievements are likely to be deep and sustainable, rather than shallow and fleeting. We have cultures in many education systems and schools that promote busyness and the flitting from one 'thing' to another. When you have a deep learning culture, development and growth is seen as a continual ongoing process that all can commit to, and which you, as the school leader, can actively support. Lastly I would say smile and remember to say thank you. When you get swamped by all that you have to do as a school leader, you can lose sight of the little things that can make a big difference. Amongst these is smiling and showing your appreciation for all that your staff do. How much of your time would this take? But, the impact is immense.  It was pointed out to me a while ago that teacher working conditions are also pupil learning conditions, this is so true. Never lose sight that it is a privilege to lead a school and, despite all the challenges, it remains one of the best jobs you can ever be lucky enough to experience. Show it!

I will finish with what I think might be considered as the 'seven deadly sins' of school leadership. No matter the circumstances or reasons, you should try to avoid these at all costs. Many of them produce the absolute opposite of what I have described above, so not much further explanation is needed. They are; Micromanaging everything. More common than it should be and a sign of lack of trust. Saying one thing and doing another. You are what you do, not what you say you will do. Again destroys trust and relationships. Following the latest fads and trends. Leads to ever changing focus and increasing workloads for frazzled staff. Searching for 'silver bullets'. There aren't any. The only thing that works is the long hard slog of a focused, connected, development process. Letting people down. This is not about trying to please everyone, but more about betraying your professed vision and values, at the cost to your community. Compliance at the cost of doing what is right. Leadership is not easy, but it helps if you are clear about what your lines in the sand are, beyond which you will not move. Always put the learners and community first. Being invisible. Highly effective leaders are visible and active participants in all that the school is involved with, especially learning in classrooms. You can't achieve this from your office!

In the recent book 'Flip The System UK' headteacher Rae Snape asked us to stop being 'Lemmings of Despair' and instead look to become 'Flamingos of Hope'. Which are you?

A glitch in the system, or more than that?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

As I write this, the annual International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) is taking place in Singapore. This event brings together researchers, writers and policy makers from education systems across the planet to look at and consider what is happening, and what is working, across those systems, as well as where we should focus next. The theme for this year's congress is 'Deepening School Change for Scaling: Principles, Pathways and Partnerships'.

Whilst not being able to attend this year, though I did manage an appearance two years ago, I have been an interested follower of keynotes and workshops via Twitter and social media. This is one of the joys of such technology, that you can still observe what is happening and being discussed at an event like this, even though you might not be there in person. The various keynotes are also made available online so that you can see and hear these yourself, especially if you want to refer or think more about them later. With Twitter though, you can interact in real time as they use the hashtag #ICSEI2018, you can also check this timeline out at a later date if you wish. I would recommend everyone interested in education to have a look.

Andy Hargreaves gave the presidential address and looked at 'Purpose, Professionalism, Leadership and Change'. In this address he identified that 'wellbeing is the new frontier of school improvement.' This theme has been repeated and added to by various speakers following Andy, representing quite a dramatic change in emphasis for many education systems, and the individuals in them. Hargreaves went on to say that the question was no longer whether people should collaborate but how they collaborate. He was advocating a move 'from professional collaboration to collaborative professionalism', a profound change in how we think about and practice collaboration and professionalism. Key to our new way of thinking and acting should be dialogue and action, learning with meaning and purpose, embedded cultures, teacher leadership and working with students. He was also to say that 'we've moved from an age of achievement to an age of identity, engagement and wellbeing.'

He was followed by Carol Campbell who spoke about the work she and colleagues had been undertaking in Ontario, and the lessons they had learned as a result. She concluded her presentation with the five key lessons they had garnered from their work. These five aspects were key to any successful development. In such development, they have 1) humanity at the core, they develop 2) collaborative professionalism, they are 3) evidence informed, they promote the 4) de-privatization of practice and they create 5) systems for knowledge co-creation, mobilization and use. I was particularly taken by one of her slides which compared ego driven hierarchies, typically found across schools and systems, and eco ones, which were ecological in nature, valued input from everyone one and were non-hierarchical structurally. She was advocating that we have to have people at the heart of any system change. She referenced 'Flip The System' and Jelmer Evers to illustrate an example of a teacher having systemic influence, but also noted that if you flipped a hierarchy, you still had an hierarchy, which is why she preferred a more ecological model.

Another message with resonance given on the first day was 'All improvement requires change, but not all change is an improvement' delivered by a Dr Gruncow. How true is this.

As I am watching the second day of presentations, similar themes are being repeated and discussed as those on the first day. A friend from Australia, Andrea Stringer, sent me a message this morning about how Carol Campbell had given a very powerful message that to bring about large scale educational change we had to focus on humanity and people. This is all music to my ears, because I have been advocating this as an approach that will work and deliver, for some time now.

If we have many of the world's leading educational researchers advocating such a change to how we develop our education systems, the question now is, how prepared, willing and able are our systems to embrace such an approach? I am also not oblivious to the fact that both Andy and Carol are part of the group of International Educational Advisors that are supporting the Scottish government at the present time, and that other members of this group are also in attendance in Singapore.

I Tweeted out Andrea's message and added, 'This won't please the micro-managers, control freaks and power junkies that abound in many systems.' To me, this is going to be a major issue in bringing about the changes being advocated at the ICSEI conference. It has always been my contention that so many of those at the higher reaches of the prevailing hierarchies are the ones who feel most threatened, and perceive they have the most to lose, from any move to a more humanistic and egalitarian system structure and culture. As such, they can become the biggest block to the changes necessary. I agree with Carol and Andy about what needs to happen, and how this needs to be brought about by the actions of teachers and individuals in the system, wherever they are found. My recent chapter in 'Flip The System UK' made much the same point.

In my experience, trying to take such steps, within current systems, can see such individuals being seen as 'outliers' or 'anomalies' in the system. A 'glitch', as techies might say. Any education system is composed of systems and structures, then people, who make it live and breathe. As such, it can be difficult to shift thinking and practice, because if your thinking and practice do not conform to what the system is looking for, you begin to attract attention, sometimes for the wrong reasons. These can be aimed at bringing you back into line, so that you conform to the systems models and expectations. We can judge a system's norms by its behaviours and what it is prepared to accept and support, not by what it purports to support. If you regard an education system, at whatever level, like the human body's systems, you can see similarities in how it operates, and how it protects itself in order to survive. The body's systems have evolved to work for the benefit of the individual, with each part having a role to play in keeping the whole system healthy and alive. When a threat is detected, in the form of germs or foreign bodies, or when parts do not function as expected, the body has defence systems that kick in, to destroy the threat, to isolate it or to compensate for it not working as it should.

This is exactly how some systems and schools work. Everyone has to understand their role, understand the model, and then behave accordingly to support this. When glitches occur, and individuals argue against the prevailing model or practices, no matter how well researched and evidenced, the system tends to push back. This may take the form of individuals being told their performance is different or not what is 'expected', and that they need to deliver in the same way as colleagues, with practice then being monitored closely to see if they are starting to conform. Further action may result, if individuals fail to 'improve' and demonstrate adherence to accepted models. For those further up the hierarchies who decide to push against the system norms and practices, then isolation and ignoring become other ways of dealing with such outliers. Just like the body, the education system, and those who control it, have ways of protecting themselves, and maintaining the status quo.

If we have systems that support such hierarchies and behaviours it can be difficult for individuals to affect change. That is why collaborating professionally with others who feel the same as you is so important in generating organic systemic development and growth. Getting together with others who are considered outliers or different is crucial to individual and systemic growth. Generally, systems like societies, grow and develop organically rather than in revolutionary ways. 'Outliers' can soon become more 'normalised' by force of opinion and practices. We can all look back at behaviours or attitudes that were acceptable in our societies ten or twenty years ago, but which are now no longer acceptable, because we have learnt better. To bring about those changes first required individuals to question what we were doing and why, then to offer an alternative which was better.

As more and more come on board, a tipping-point is reached where permanent change results, we have grown and moved on. I see the same thing happening in the Scottish system at the moment with the work of Suzanne Zeedyk in regard to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and attachment issues, Sue Palmer and the Upstart movement, aimed at promoting play for learning in early childhood, as well as the work of Kate Wall, Mark Priestley and others in developing enquiry for professional development in our schools. All of these show the power of informed, committed individuals to bring about change and growth within a fairly fixed system. They also demonstrate just why our focus needs to be on people and their humanity, rather than on systems and structures.

When we have true democracy, teacher leadership and agency, then we will have the conditions being talked of at ICSEI, leading to organic, deep growth in ever improving and developing systems. Change starts with individuals being brave and asking questions of their own practice, as well as that of the system. Lets commit to this at the start of 2018. More of the same does our profession a disservice and continues to let down so many of our learners and their families. They and we, deserve more than that.

Apologies if I have misinterpreted any of the messages from #ICSE2018 but no doubt there is lots to think about.


from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

If you are reading this, dear reader, then I am extremely grateful to you, and wish you to know this is the 200th post of my Blog. When I started this blog in 2013 I had little understanding or idea of how it might develop over time. Originally, my intention was to share some of my journey as a headteacher/principal in Scotland. I wrote then, and still do now, to help develop and clarify my own thinking around various issues related to my leadership role and learning. Over time this original purpose has grown and developed as more people engaged with my Blog and I recognised the potential to share, collaborate and reach new understandings, that could impact on my thinking, practice and learners in the schools I led. What I also discovered was that the blog was another way for me to have a 'voice' in the wider discourse around education, schools and leadership, one which was not restricted to Scotland, and my immediate physical location, but which easily crossed international borders and systems.

A lot of the issues I was to explore in various posts were ones which school leaders, teachers and researchers were grappling with across many education systems. Curriculum, learning, teaching, leadership, accountability, professional development, cultures, GERM agendas, testing, PISA, structures, assessment, community, hierarchies, partnerships, collaboration, values, principles, planning, politics, and so much more that I have covered, remain high on the agendas of school leaders, teachers and systems not only here in Scotland but across the globe. I have written about all of these over the last four years and, in doing so, have developed my own thinking and understanding, through collaboration and responses from various readers of my musings. I have been supported to develop my thinking in order to improve my practice, with the ultimate aim of benefitting learners not only in the schools I led, but  also in my system leadership role. I shall remain eternally grateful to the wonderful people who have taken the time to read, then respond, because this has what has helped shape, and re-shape, my thinking and my practice.

When I look back at my earliest posts, I find myself disagreeing with some of what I was writing at that time. This is how it should be. Our thinking, like our practice, should be continually moving on and developing and often the best way to achieve this is through dialogue and reading with others who have experienced or researched similar issues. Amongst the few things that have remained fixed are my values and principles, my determination to improve and get better, and my belief in our ability as a profession to make a difference for so many. I remain a steadfast defender of teachers and the profession, whilst recognising there is still much that we have to do, to produce an educational culture that meets the needs of all and which supports deep organic growth and development at its heart.

I like to think I have supported others to think about their own practice, and to help them identify a way forward that works for them and their context. I never set out to tell people what to do, or how to get better. What I have tried to do is to encourage people to have the conversations they needed to have, with themselves and others, in order to reach their own conclusions and solutions to some of the dilemmas and issues that have confronted them and others. Whilst the issues can be common, the solutions, or the way forward, have to be shaped by personal and professional contexts. We can use the experience and research of others to help inform our thinking, but we have to interpret and shape this ourselves to match our context.

I know I have encouraged a few people to start blogging themselves, or to blog more. 'If he can do it, why shouldn't I be able to?' seems to have been a motivation for many. I am so pleased and proud when I see more colleagues engaging through their own blogs, or through Twitter, as they discover their own 'voice' and contribute to the general discourse. But, I am sure all of these would say that they, like myself, have gained most from their blogging and the people they have developed relationships with, real or virtual. As a result we have all grown as individuals and, I believe, as a profession. I used to be asked 'how do you find the time for all that reading and writing?' My response was always that we should always be able to find time for the things that make a difference. If you cut out all the things that take up your professional time, that have no impact on your thinking or practice, and therefore learners, you can immediately free up time to help you develop, and have greater positive impacts for those learners. I realised a long time ago that this is a 'no-brainer' in terms of prioritising your time and being leaderly, rather than simply reactive, your actions being determined by whatever the latest 'thing' was that was taking up so much of your time.

To lead effectively, requires you to get your head up and out of your immediate concerns. Leadership requires an ability to think and plan for the future, as much as dealing with the present. You have a vision of what you are trying to achieve, and can identify the steps you may need to take to head towards that vision. This will have impacts for those you lead, your establishment and the learners you have in front of you presently, as well as those your establishments and staff will face in the future, when you are no longer in post. To do all this, requires curious and inquisitive leaders, who collaborate and talk with as many others as possible, in whatever ways they can, so that all can focus on strategies and steps that will really make deep embedded change more likely and successful.

Thank you to everyone who has engaged with this blog, which has had over 100,000 views, and has helped me shape my thinking and my practice. Whilst I write a lot of stuff mainly for myself, and to provoke debate in others, as a writer you do write in the expectation that someone is going to read your writing. Once you put something into a public domain or forum, you are exposing yourself and your thinking to scrutiny and criticism. But the more you do it, the more confident you get, especially if you use helpful feedback to improve your writing. My blog has given me the confidence to write for other blogs, as a guest writer, for professional magazines and web-sites, as well as contributing to books like Flip The System UK, which was published recently. I had written some of my thoughts on educational leadership in 2011, the title of that book providing the title for this blog, and I have another book out in January. Whilst my blogging has shaped so much of my practice, it also provided me with the confidence to write more, and I now have the time to develop this further.

My aim is to keep blogging, writing and commentating on educational issues in 2018. If you haven't had the confidence to dip your toe into writing, or Twitter, why not make this a target for the year ahead. Such a commitment will help you personally and professionally, and you will be helping to shape the profession we are all proud to be a small part of. Lets not wait to be told what to do by others, but collaborate with colleagues to take actions which are informed, and help us all to improve our impact for all our learners.

Another year of change, but is anything different?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

As we come to the end of another year, it is often a time of reflection on the year past and all we have achieved, as well as the disappointments, personal and professional. At the start of any year, twelve months seems like a long time away. However, as adults you soon come to understand how quickly that time will disappear, especially when you are busy and have lots you want to do. In education, as in other sectors, we are always thinking and planning ahead of ourselves. A lot of our thinking is often focused on the future, whilst our bodies, and responsive reactions, remain firmly fixed in the present. We can spend our working lives consumed by the future, and all those things yet to appear over imagined and real horizons. This is especially so if you have a formal leadership role. Too often perhaps, we fail to stay in the moment, mindful of all our current experiences, and how these are changing us, or we dwell to long in the past, especially on things that have gone wrong, rather than all the things that went well. The average educator can be a strange mix of angst and worry, no matter how much we have to celebrate. There is always much to celebrate at the end of any year, so perhaps we should focus more on that than any negatives.

Anyway, I want to look back over the year in order to consider the changes we may have experienced or initiated, whilst considering the impacts of those changes. What difference have they made to our thinking, our practice and for our learners? Although I am very much situated in the Scottish system, I am sure many of the experiences we have had within this are common to other systems as well.

On a personal note, I stood down from my role as a headteacher in April. The first term of the year, in the run up to Easter was a strange and emotional one. Once I had made the decision to retire, it felt almost like I was in limbo, personally and professionally. I had one eye on the future, but I was also acutely aware of my current responsibilities to the schools I led, their pupils, parents and  staff. I tried to carry on as normal, but as soon as I had made the decision, I started to feel more and more detached as everyone else retained their focus entirely on the present and the future, whilst I started to contemplate my own different future. I was given a great send off from both schools, and they carried on under different leadership, as all schools do following any changes in staffing. I have always said that a school is composed of the people in it, not the physical buildings and structures, but actually these are the only things that remain over time. People move on, as they must.

Once finished, I used my free time to complete the writing of my new book, which I had barely managed to start at that point. 'Practitioner Enquiry: Professional Development with Impact for Teachers, Schools and Systems' is published in January 2018. A great deal of time has been spent working with the publishers and their agents since I submitted my original manuscript at the end of June. If you have ever produced a book for publication, you will have some understanding of the process. If not, just know that, as a writer, it is far from over when you submit the manuscript!

I have spent time writing for other publications, including the Times Educational Supplement Scotland (TESS), a chapter for 'Flip The System UK' and a number of online professional magazines and research sites. I have been actively involved with the Scottish Parents Teachers Council (SPTC) and a couple of other education related organisations that asked me to consider getting involved with their work. I have read a lot and continued to engage closely with teachers and colleagues, as I still wanted to comment on, and hopefully have some impact, in supporting them and all they do. I may be retired as a school leader, but I still feel there are things I can do to make a difference, for learners, teachers and schools.

I knew before I retired that I still wished to be actively engaged in our education system, in whatever ways I could, to try to be a voice for the profession. The way I could do that was to utilise my experience and my knowledge in order to write and comment on what I saw happening, and to directly support teachers, schools and their leaders whenever I could. This will continue next year and I am already sitting on invitations from within Scotland and further afield to help and share, directly or through my writing, which I am only too pleased to do.

Through all of the above activity, I am hoping to still have an impact for learners. Such impact is hard to assess or measure, but I believe that if I am able to help one teacher or one school, then I am still impacting on many learners. I see my role now as very much a system leadership one, that utilises my experience and knowledge to go on supporting those I can, and to continue fighting for an education system that our country and our children deserve. Not having one or two schools to directly lead frees my time so that I am able to contribute in different ways.

So, what about your year as a teacher? What has changed for you this year, and how have you developed your thinking and practice? I am a great believer in the desire and commitment of teachers to do the very best they can for all their learners. That is the point we should start from in every consideration of teacher development. Keep recognising and celebrating all that we do which impacts positively on learners and families, then build from this to get better when we can. We can all improve our practice and our understanding of our role, and we should seek to achieve this over the course of every year we are part of the profession. I always saw it as a professional responsibility that I sought to get better at what I did each year, not by throwing out everything I had been doing the previous year, but by identifying small decisions and steps based on another twelve months of experience and learning.

Such personal and professional development attitudes need to come from within, not imposed from outside. Teachers should be reflecting on, and adapting, their practice in the light of on-going experience and their developing knowledge and expertise. They should view this as a professional disposition and need to be supported to do this in ways that are grounded in where they are in their development, their professional context, and through collaboration with colleagues. However, we still have cultures and structures in the Scottish system, and others, that seek to tell teachers what they should be doing to get better. Such a one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to failure, as each person is likely to be in a different position in terms of context and personal development. Approaches we adopt have to reflect this reality, not some idealised notional position imagined by those at the upper levels of the persistent hierarchies.

When teachers can ground their development in their personal and professional contexts, and the learners they have in front of them, then they can continue to have greater impacts for all those learners. I know that schools all over Scotland have been spending incredible amounts of development time this year engaging with the new 'Benchmarks' produced by Education Scotland, with associated directives from them, and their local authorities, that these should be used to assess whether learners have achieved a 'level' in Curriculum for Excellence. Programmes of work, or 'curricular pathways' have to be matched to the new benchmarks, or developed so that they are. The use of these is particularly important for P1, P4, P7 and S3 learners, as these are the ones that teachers, schools and local authorities have to report on to government. As such, they have garnered a lot of attention this year, unfortunately at the expense of teachers improving their knowledge of, and practice, with learning and teaching. All the development hours that have been spent focused on the new benchmarks are hours taken from school development time, that could have been focused on developing teaching, which would have impacts for all learners.

I struggle to see what the positive impacts for learners are, for teachers and schools to be focused on the a method they are being told they have to use to report on learners progress. This is a perfect example of critical teacher time being diverted onto the structures and needs of the system, at the expense of learners and learning. I have no doubt that, in addition to all this focus on the benchmarks for each curricular areas, teachers have also found themselves in schools with other busy development agendas, some of which will be focused and relevant, but some of which may be driven by local authority agendas, or others made by school leadership, with little reference to teachers and their wishes. All in all, I am sure every teacher in Scotland, or elsewhere, has been very busy over the course of this year. The question now to be asked by teachers and school leaders is, what has been the impact of all that busyness, and what has changed?

Too often the answer to those questions above is, not very much, we are continuing as we have always done, because we know what works for us as teachers, or our learners. Often, the best course of action in the face of so many directives on your time, is engage as little as you can and get on with what you want to, which you know works. Yet, we plough on with all this busyness year after year, adding to work loads, and no doubt stress levels. Why? If we take it as a given, that we as teachers and schools are going to be busy every year, then doesn't it make sense that we ensure that all that busyness actually makes a difference in what we do, bringing about embedded change? Focused busyness can be good if there are positive outcomes for our learners, as well as our own practice. Busyness, just because we have to be seen to be busy, helps no-one, nor the system as a whole.

I spent enough time in schools, both as a teacher and as a leader, to see how easy it is to be constantly busy, but actually making little progress. I once heard this described as rocking-horse development, in that there was lots of movement and activity, but like a rocking horse we were going nowhere. How many years in school are characterised by lots of change heralded by government, quangos or leadership, which then leads to everything remaining exactly the same, if not worse, for learners? That has to change. The only way it can change is if teachers and schools take control of their own development, shaping this themselves for their learners, and refuse to be deflected by outside agendas.

When teachers and schools take charge of their own development, they begin to take small steps towards continuous growth that is deep and meaningful, but which, most importantly, is more likely to produce deep embedded change. At the moment we have too much surface-level compliance, to much pretence around the impact our changes are having, and not enough authentic development. I know there are still lots of schools and teachers who are producing deep embedded change in their practice and for their schools, despite the onslaught of initiatvitis from above. They are the ones who have decided that they know themselves and their schools best, and have enough data and evidence to tell them where their focus needs to lie. The ones who allow themselves to be dominated or deflected by the agendas of others  will constantly be at the beck and call of everyone, constantly being busy and producing little change that is embedded into practice or thinking.

Education and learning are too important for continual game-playing.

Perhaps 2018 can be the year when more schools and more teachers stand up for what they believe in, and take the steps they know they need to take to improve? They will still be busy people and establishments, but perhaps they will really be different entities at the end of the year, rather than just another version of their former selves.

Good luck to everyone. Have a great Christmas and a very happy New Year. You deserve the break and the chance to rest and relax for all that you do and achieve in the face of the challenges presented by so much of the system, and those who claim to know better. Imagine what we could achieve if the system supported and helped everything we needed to do, and we didn't have to waist so much energy finding ways to by-pass it? It still feels that too much of what we achieve is despite the system, not because of it.

When do we start to push back?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

It is fair to say that, as ever, there is lots going on in the Scottish education system, and many others. There are structural changes being put into place in education systems across the globe. Scotland has been embracing the education reform movement for the last three or so years, certainly since Nicola Sturgeon was appointed First Minister in 2014. She took office asking the electorate to judge her and her government on what they achieved in transforming the education system. To many observers, her call to arms around education sounded very familiar to Tony Blair's battle cry of 'Education, education, education' as he identified his priorities prior to being elected UK Prime Minister in 1997. Blair was to  begin a process of structural reform in English education which was to lead to academies, higher accountability, competition and privatisation, and which were enthusiastically embraced and enhanced by Conservative governments that followed.

Blair's agenda, and those that followed, were driven by neo-liberalism, both in philosophy and action. No surprise given 'New Labour's' enthusiasm to embrace all things American and Blair's support for George Bush. It was also to be characterised by what Pasi Sahlberg has since decried as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) that had been emerging in systems around the world. Such systems featured high levels of competition, high accountability measures and structures, business approaches to education and the embracing of high-stakes standardised testing to constantly measure how the system was performing. They viewed teaching as a technical activity and they had strong top down hierarchies and direction. Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, was one of the first to vocally push back against such models, and their detrimental affects on all the things they purported to address. They were supposed to raise attainment, improve learning, improve teaching whilst improving equity and social mobility.

What in fact happened was that all of these aims were shown to deteriorate under GERM agendas, and additionally there were even more detrimental effects on learners and schools. Stress levels rose for learners as standardised testing became the main measure purporting to show how well a system was doing. League tables followed, showing the 'best performing' and 'worst performing' schools. The gradings of organisations like Ofsted were pre-determined before school visits, based entirely on pupil performance in SATs and senior exam structures. Pressure was increased and people, especially school leaders, began to lose their jobs. Stress for teachers and school leaders was ramping up, as was workload, as 'data' and 'evidence' became king. The pressures from above were cascaded down on those in the lower echelons of the hierarchy. But this particular pressure was not producing diamonds of performance, more frazzled teachers, schools and leaders, all of which impacted on learners.

Coming from Finland, Sahlberg was able to show a different way of working that had none of the characteristics described above, but which was very successful. Attainment and social equity was high in Finnish schools and across the system, because the culture and society valued education and educators, focusing on high level entry into the profession, then professional collaboration to improve learning and teaching. Sahlberg has described the high levels of trust in educators from within the system and from society as a whole. However, the UK and other countries like USA, Australia and Sweden were pushing on with agendas that directed and micro-managed schools and teachers from above., convinced that those at the top knew best and improvement could be mandated and forced.

Meanwhile in Scotland, we had taken a different route and it was a Scottish Labour government that sowed the seeds for what is now called Curriculum for Excellence. (CfE) This aimed to free teachers and schools from the proscription experienced under the previous 5-14 curriculum, and would provide learners with a broad general education, which focused not just on knowledge acquisition, but also on skills, attitudes and aptitudes to help develop young people as adaptive life-long learners. Four key capacities, Successful Learners, Responsible Citizens, Effective Contributors and Confident Individuals, aimed to encapsulate the holistic approach and outcomes of learning for all. CfE was to fall foul of Micro-management and bureaucratic snowstorms of extra workload, but its initial intentions and ideals did aim for a different approach in Scotland.

Moving on to 2014 and Ms Sturgeon's focus on education, she qualified her aim by stating that she wanted to be informed by evidence when making decisions about education, and she was prepared to look anywhere to find 'what was working' elsewhere. Leading what is ostensibly a left-leaning government it was rather surprising that she then looked to England, where  Michael Gove was an education minister seemingly determined to have the English system privatised, with a curricular focus from the 1950's, based mainly on his own experiences. (Ironically, these had been Scottish!) She was impressed by the hype and 'spin' around the 'London Challenge', as well as what was happening in USA with 'No Child Left Behind.' It would seem that our politicians were not only prepared to use 'spin' when necessary, they were also easily swayed by it themselves, and prepared to cite such spin as 'evidence'.

Whilst I recognise you cannot simply replicate the characteristics of one system in another and expect the same results, just as you can't between schools, one would have thought there were more similarities between Finland and Scotland, than any of the other countries our government turned to for models of 'good practice'. The result has been that we have embraced many of the characteristics of neo-liberal driven agendas and the GERM approach to school and system development.

In Scotland, we have structural change, standardised tests, ramped up accountability, benchmarks, more power to headteachers, less local authority input, targets and more, that point us to the direction of travel. Already attempts have been made, discussed and some implemented, to reduce entry requirements into teaching, review initial teacher education and move away from universities, different 'free' models of schools which would operate outside of current structures, abolishment of the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS) and the immersion of SCEL (Scottish College for Educational Leadership) into Education Scotland. All of which, can only lead to the conclusion that we are heading for many of the ills of some of systems mentioned above, rather than embracing the approaches which have been shown to work in Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

What we also understand is that the consequences for many of these changes may well be detrimental to young learners, to teachers, to schools and to the system as a whole. Andy Hargreaves was right when he said a couple of years ago, we are at a tipping point at present in Scotland. We can go one way and become a leading performer in education again, or we can go another and set back all that we have built our system on, as well as what we are trying to achieve.

My simple questions in this post is, 'when will we say enough?' and 'When do we begin to push back against changes that we know will make our schools and our system worse, rather than better?'  Education systems and schools are constructed of people. All of us, not just some. One of the discussions I have had many times with colleagues and other educators is around the ethical and moral dilemmas you face as a leader, especially when confronted by directives to do things that are against your personal and professional values, which you consider to be harmful, either to learning or wellbeing, to your learners. There is no one answer to this, and it is down to individuals and their context to make their own decisions. As a commentator from outside, I no-longer face the day-to-day reality of having to make such decisions. However, I am sure all would agree that we should never take decisions or actions that will be harmful to learners.

However, such ethical and moral decisions can be made so much harder in cultures where dissent is not encouraged and where 'spin' dominates. Too many people still want to portray every change and every decision as positive and the only right one to make. It is then only a small step to using a term like 'the blob' to describe those who do not agree with decisions handed down by those above in the hierarchy. Names can soon change into bullying behaviours and isolation, producing cultures where people keep their heads down and just keep complying, even when they don't agree. When was the last time you heard a government, or minister, put their hand up and say 'we got that wrong'? Everything is a success, when you are in government or at the top of a local authority or organisation. When things do go wrong, there is always somebody else to blame. Take all the credit and none of the blame, is not a great position for any leader.

The unions in Scotland have all said they are against any move to remove the independence of the GTCS and replace it with a government appointed body. Currently it is independent paid for from the registration fees of its members. They have also voiced concerns about the introduction of standardised testing, talk of league tables, reducing the qualification requirements for new entrants into the profession and the setting up of more independent or 'free' schools.  I know there is a lot of unrest and dismay within the profession of many of the changes that are happening, but there are a lot of people who are reluctant to, or who can't, speak out about what is happening. That in itself is an indicator of an unhealthy culture across the system. If we feel we cannot be open and take part in a meaningful, informed dialogue, then people are likely to keep complying, become more unhappy, adding to the staffing pressures across the system, as they may well seek to leave at the first opportunity, be it from a school or the system.

Wondering aloud, what will it take before we act? For any system to be healthy it requires an engaged and informed profession, who feel they are listened to about everything they care passionately about. At the moment, there is a feeling that decisions are being made in Bute House, or elsewhere in the Scottish government, which we are then 'consulted' on and to which not much heed is then paid. Leaders at any level, who surround themselves only with people who are going to agree with everything they say or do, are too controlling and stifle the honest exchange of views, ideas and sharing of evidence. They become detached from the realities of those whom they purport to lead, creating ultimately toxic cultures which may well lead to their downfall, if they are in post long enough for this to happen. The political life and attention-span of your average minister, or system leader, seems very short at the moment, and often they are off before proverbial chickens come home to roost. Most of the people in any system are in it for the long haul, because they are still fully committed to making a difference, and still believe they can. Picking up pieces after failed and badly thought out change is a waste of their time, energy and expertise.

The government in Scotland at the moment is betrayed by the mismatch between what it says and what it is doing. Until both their words and their actions match, people must make their own decisions about what they really represent by their actions. I think we are not far from the situation where the education profession, that is the individuals who compose it, decide that they cannot support more and more of these actions, and have no alternative but to push back. We achieve so much more through collaboration and consensus than we ever will with conflict. For that to happen, people need to feel that our leaders are listening to what we are saying and are prepared to adjust their actions, informed by practitioners professional expertise and experience.

I really hope that in 2018 there will be more listening and collaboration throughout our system, and all others. If that doesn't happen, then I am afraid 2018 could be the year where we actually decide enough is enough!

A first step would be for everyone to take time over the holidays to respond to the consultation currently taking place around some of the structural changes proposed. The ironically named 'Empowering Schools Consultation' is available on the Scottish government website.

Inside the black box revisted (again)⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

'Inside the black box', written by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam was written in 1998 and consisted of nineteen pages. How come  this pamphlet, because you can hardly call it a book, has had such major impacts in education systems in the UK and across the world?

The answer lies in the content, which was to herald the focus on formative assessment in classrooms and schools across many systems, but particularly here in the UK.

My earliest memories of hearing about formative assessment was, first of all at an In-Service day for teachers with our local authority, in which we were told there had been some new research written about how we could all improve our teaching, and we were to start getting the learners involved actively in learning, deciding what they wanted to learn, and that we would all be doing this from now on. The second, was seeing Dylan Wiliam on a TV programme talking about formative assessment, and the techniques teachers could use in their classrooms. The teachers in the programme, and myself, were particularly taken by his 'no hands up' strategy, and the use of lollipop sticks to support everyone to be engaged in a lesson.

Both these memories, reflect some of the reasons why the work of Black and Wiliam with regards to formative assessment is still being discussed and debated today, and has still not been fully implemented properly in so many schools and systems. There work is an example of a piece of well researched and well intentioned advice that has somehow mutated into other things in many classrooms and schools, and therefore has failed to have the impacts, or results, expected across the system. There is no doubt that this work has had positive impacts for teachers, schools and learners, but there still remains a feeling that we still 'haven't got it' in many instances.

Perhaps the two biggest failings associated with the research were the lack of time given to assimilate and understand its main messages, and how quickly it was turned into a series of techniques to be used, and observed, in classrooms.

I have returned to 'Inside the black box' many times over the last nineteen years, and each time I find messages that have either been lost or twisted into something else over this time period. I consider some of these in this post, to help remind myself of what was said, and the actual impacts we experienced as formative assessment became the latest 'thing' in education.

Lets remind ourselves of some of the main messages.

'Learning is driven by what teachers and pupils do in classrooms.' This seems such an obvious observation, but Black and Wiliam thought it so important that it was worthwhile stating on page 1 of 'Inside the black box' (ITBB). This remains just as true today as it did then, despite all the government focus on curriculum, testing, accountability and structures that had proceeded it, and which continue to this day. The statement points us, and policy makers, to where our attention needs to lie, if we are to improve what we can achieve for all our learners. Much of the work of others like Fullan, Hargreaves, Sahlberg, Harris, Hattie, and more, have emphasised the same point, around the primacy of teachers and learners in the learning process. Black and Wiliam, and other researchers, all recognised the complexity of learning, and that if we wanted to improve this, our focus has to be on teachers, individually and collaboratively. They felt we were too focused on inputs and outputs, rather than what happens between these. The 'black box' of which they wrote, was the classroom and the teaching and learning that happened therein. Indeed, Wiliam has commented recently that he wished they had not used 'assessment' at all, because what they were talking about was good formative teaching and learning practices.

'We start from the self-evident proposition that teaching and learning have to be interactive.' This is stated on page 2. They point out that teachers have to know their pupils well and, using their knowledge and experience, they have to adjust their teaching according to how their learners are responding to the learning taking place. They describe this ability as 'formative assessment', where teachers are responding and giving feedback to learners as they are engaged on learning tasks and activities. The learners would also be receiving feedback from their peers about their learning, as they supported their own, and others', learning. Black and Wiliam observed that good teachers had always operated in these ways, but that they wanted to question whether such practice positively supported learning, and could it be improved further by making the process more systematic and visible?

' we also acknowledge widespread evidence that fundamental educational change can only be achieved slowly - through programmes of professional development that build on existing good practice.' This appears, on page 3, as a caution to governments and system leaders, as well as teachers themselves, to not to try and go too fast, but to build on what they do well already. I am sure many of us who have been involved with the adoption of formative assessment strategies and practice, would think that this is definitely one piece of advice that was generally ignored. There was a push from all levels in the system  to introduce everything Black and Wiliam talked about as quickly as possible, without giving people the time to engage with the research and the associated literature, so that they thoroughly understood what they were doing and why? Black and Wiliam had looked at nearly 600 pieces of research, as well as their own, in order to offer the advice they did in 1998, from this there first key message was about taking our time with changes we made. If only!

They quickly demonstrated in ITBB that formative assessment did indeed raise standards of attainment and 'improved formative assessment helps the (so-called) low attainers more than the rest, and so reduces the spread of attainment whilst also raising it overall.' (page 4) They said that for this to be the case, feedback was crucial, learners needed to be actively engaged in their learning, the results of teacher assessment had to be used to adjust future learning, and that teachers needed to consider pupil motivation and self and peer assessment to support learning. Because of the rush to implementation, these message were quickly skewed into pupils being up and about in all their learning, 'three stars and a wish' was given and expected to be seen, more 'flexible' planning proformas were introduced, and learners spent  a lot of time assessing their own work and that of others as a ritualistic part of many observed lessons. Everyone  rushed to 'prove' they were 'doing' formative assessment. The local authority I worked for interpreted some of these messages as meaning each child needed an personal learning plan (PLP), the first section of which required learners to identify their 'preferred learning style'. Teachers were instructed to take note of these as they planned the learning. I would like to say that these have all disappeared, but I still see and hear of such plans being used, and insisted on, in schools across Scotland.

Black and Wiliam then went on to identify a whole raft of common teaching practices and approaches that were actually detrimental to learning, but which had commonly been observed by themselves and other researchers. To them, this demonstrated that there was still much we could do to improve practice, and therefore attainment off all our learners. They pointed out all the legislation and structural changes that had been introduced in England, and elsewhere, designed to bring about improvement and development, in which they noted 'that existing good practice could hardly have survived, let alone risen to the challenge of a far more demanding set of requirements.' (page 8)

So, yes there were still many things we could do to improve how formative assessment was understood and used in schools, and by teachers. They identified that 'the ultimate user of assessment information which is elicited in order to improve learning is the pupil.' (page 8) This could produce a negative impact if classroom cultures focused on extrinsic rewards which promoted fixed mindsets in learners about what they could, or could not, do. But, if teachers 'created a culture of success, backed by a belief that all can achieve' (page 9) then formative assessment could become a powerful weapon for improved outcomes. Feedback was crucial, should help learners improve their learning and understanding, and should be specific to them, in order to have the biggest impacts. These findings and advice were to be supported by later work by Carol Dweck, John Hattie, and others.

There was still great scope for pupils to self-assess and peer-assess, though they recognised the reliability issues that lay around this. They pointed out that 'pupils can only assess themselves when they have a sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to attain.' (page 9)They saw this element as a key component of formative assessment practice, provided the pupils were taught how to carry out such assessment in a meaningful and accurate way. This was to lead to the setting of learning intentions and success criteria by teachers for every lesson, with a great deal of time getting learners to write these down, or stick them, into their jotters. It also seemed to lead to a lot of meaningless peer-assessment comments appearing on pupil work, and most of this was designed to 'show' that formative assessment was happening, rather than to support the learning of learners. A consequence of not giving teachers enough time to understand and think about what was actually being said, then considering how they might meaningfully shape this for their learners. such mutations were occurring across schools and systems, and most teachers were so busy they didn't have the time to look at the original recommendations and research themselves. We had created cultures where teachers and school leaders waited to be told what to do, and from which we still suffer today.

Black and Wiliam considered effective teaching and how teachers planned for this. They pointed out that planning should change so that learning is clearly identified, and time provided for learners to 'communicate their evolving understanding.' (page 10) A more dialogical approach to learning was being recommended, as the importance of questioning by teachers was being emphasised, with teachers seeing these times as another opportunity of assessing the depth of pupil learning. Again, they recognised inherent dangers in this process if teachers didn't thoroughly understand what they were doing and why. I would suggest, that this is exactly what happened in many cases, and more lip-service was paid to this aspect, rather than any deep understanding of how it improved learning. This was as much the fault of those observing and directing teachers, as the teachers themselves. There remained a distrust of seeing pupils talking for too long, rather than 'doing' something, which generally meant writing stuff down.

The authors recommended that teachers needed to consider carefully tests and homework exercises they set. They must be all designed carefully to support the planned learning taking place. Feedback on these tasks needed to be given that supported the learners with their learning, showing them how they could move this on. Too much testing and homework had been observed which had little connection to the learning supposedly taking place in classrooms. Done correctly, and well thought out, such tasks could still help to support the learning process, especially in older pupils. This was to lead to more demands on teachers, rather than for learners, with more homework being set as well as there being an expectation of more detailed feedback being provided, usually written, for all learners. Another example of increased activity by and for teachers, but with questionable outcomes for learners or learning.

Black and Wiliam identified a number of ways learning and teaching could be improved through better understanding of, and engagement with, formative assessment by teachers. Key was teachers asking 'Do I really know enough about the understanding of my pupils to be able to help each of them?' (page 13) They recognised the difficulties that existed for teachers and schools of all that they proposed should happen, and that there was no one single answer to bring about improvement. Not least, they saw the requirement for more time to be given so that teachers and learners could make the changes necessary. Both teachers and learners needed more time to deepen learning. Teachers would need to consider and face some of their entrenched beliefs about learning, as well as their beliefs about the potential of all their learners to learn. They would need alongside this, changes in policy so that there was more focus on improving what goes on in the classroom, and that developing formative assessment practices should become a priority for all.

Black and Wilaim consistently pointed out that formative assessment was not a 'quick-fix' that could be added to current practice. It would take time and support if we were to achieve all the benefits they had identified. They recommended four steps for development. The first was to be an extensive programme of professional development for teachers, as well as other in the system. They recommended clusters of schools working to support each other, as well as to provide external evaluation of the impacts being achieved. They wanted a dissemination process where teachers and schools could share their progress and what had worked, or not. They did caution against slavishly copying what another teacher or school had done, noting that gains will only accrue when 'each teacher finds his or her own ways of incorporating the lessons and ideas ...into his or her own patterns of classroom work.' (page 17)  Thus, they had identified the importance both of context and for focused collaboration. The removal of obstacles that might get in the way of full implementation would be key. These included curriculum structures and policies heavily focused (even then) on summative assessment and accountability measures. They recommended policy makers to look closely at anything that might get in the way of teachers focusing on formative assessment, then doing all they could to remove or reduce these. Finally, they recommended further research into formative assessment strategies and impacts, and that this should be ongoing, aimed at supporting teachers and schools further.

On page nineteen there are two quotes that are crucial, and which I believe so many people have forgot or never even noticed. They are worth repeating so that you consider yourself where you, and we, are.

'The main plank of our argument is that standards are raised only by changes which are put into direct effect by teachers and pupils in classrooms.'

'Our educational system has been subjected to many far-reaching initiatives which, whilst taken in reaction to concerns about existing practices, have been based on little evidence about their potential to meet those concerns.'

My question would be, are we really any further than where Black and Wilam thought we were in 1998?

Wiliam is correct in stating that what they were talking about and recommending was to do with effective learning and teaching practices and the supportive collaborative cultures and structures that would be required to assure these. They based their recommendations on the research that existed at that time, and there has been a whole host of research that has emerged since then that backs up what they were saying. Their thinking and their recommendations were generally sound. However, can anyone really say they have been assimilated into professional practice, or have we moved on to other 'things'?

We still remain a profession that is constantly busy and seeking the Holy Grail of perfecting schooling and learning. That puts us at risk of any 'thing' that comes along or is being peddled as the answer to all that ails or concerns us. We have to engage with research, like that of Black and Wiliam, and, where we understand that it can help us improve, take the time to implement properly and understand the impacts we are having on learning. Constantly jumping from one thing to another, being pushed by the system to do so, doesn't get us any further forward, and continues to fail learners and teachers.

Reference: Inside the black box Black P., Wiliam D. King's College London 1998 London

Informed by research, but which research?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

For many years as a school leader I tried to engage with, and use, research evidence to inform the actions we took in our schools to improve learning and teaching. I have always been an avid reader and consumer of professional reading, both as a teacher and later, when I became a school leader. When we took a collective decision to embrace practitioner enquiry as a vehicle for professional and school development, myself and colleagues began to extend this reading into more academic writing, as well as research papers. However, the more I read, and the more I engaged with researchers, academics and university staff, the more murky became the picture I was looking at.

The old Mark Twain adage about there being 'Lies, damned lies, and statistics' could equally be applied to research, especially in the complex world of education and learning. It would seem, to my poor layman eyes, with respect to research in this field, that you can find evidence from across the globe that will tell you exactly what you already think, and back up your already formed opinions and professional judgement, if that is what you are looking for. No matter that your colleague in the next school, thinks and acts differently to yourself, because, if they are really interested, they will be able to find some research that backs up what they say and do as well!

This was brought home to me at an ICSEI conference a few years ago where Andreas Schleicher, the PISA guru so fond of the power of statistics, spoke via a video-link about the need for data and evidence to be informing our actions. Afterwards, Professor David Reynolds spoke of his admiration for Schleicher in his ability and willingness to defend the distorted and narrow data that PISA produces, along with the conclusions Mr Schleicher and others draw from these. Of course he had his tongue thoroughly in his cheek as he paid his 'compliment' and he added that 'Andreas is fond of saying that without data, you are just a person with an opinion.' Reynolds went on to observe that most people in the room to which he was speaking, which was full of researchers, practitioners and policy makers, were keenly aware that 'even with data, you are still just a person with an opinion.'

To observe the many dichotomies that exist, or are created, in education, one only has to look to Twitter and the debates that rage there about what works and what doesn't in education and learning. On Twitter, you can find some very entrenched views and opinions about what should be happening in schools, often these are diametrically opposed by others. Which ever stance particular people take about an area, they will often back this up with evidence, research and analysis. Opponents will quickly shoot back with their own views and quote their own research base to support their opinions, sometimes this might be even the same piece of research as 'opponents' of their view, which they interpret differently.

What is a school teacher, or school leader, to make of all of this? As I say, the more you get into the world of research the murkier the picture can become, when you might expect the opposite would be the case. There is no doubt that our actions in schools and education systems need to be informed by research and evidence. There has been too much practice in our schools and systems that has actually been detrimental to the learning of many of our learners. This is because too much has gone on in schools, because it has always gone on in schools, not because we know it is the most effective and impactful thing to do for learning, or our learners. That has to change, and I believe it is. But, this still leaves practitioners with the issue beautifully expressed by Dylan Wiliam recently as 'everything works somewhere, but nothing works everywhere.' So, what's a teacher or school leader to do? Throwing your hands in the air and saying, 'I haven't got time for all of this!' is not really an option, not if we are trying to do the very best for all our learners. We have a professional responsibility to act professionally.

John Hattie was in Scotland recently, and no I am not going to start picking holes in his meta-analysis and the conclusions he comes to as a result, I will save that for another post. Whilst he was here, he did say that the profession is not very good at recognising, celebrating and shouting about the expertise it has within it. On this point, I would agree with Hattie, and add that we continue to undervalue and underplay our professional knowledge, expertise, and judgement, when it comes to looking for evidence on how we might improve, as well as the impacts we are having. Every improvement document that comes out of Education Scotland or from the Scottish government, talks glowingly about the primacy of 'teacher professional judgement'. I know that similar sentiments are expressed in policy in other systems too. Do we really believe it? I do, and I think the profession as a whole, and those charged with supporting it, as well as holding us to account, need to believe it too. We all should have this as our starting point for  being 'evidence, or research informed' in our practice. Reflective teachers and school leaders have in their possession, a whole raft of evidence and practical research about their practice, and their schools, and about what works and what doesn't work in their particular context. Lets us start our quest to be informed by research and evidence with ourselves. Such research evidence is individual and specific, rather general or generic.

Our context is crucial and should shape everything we do. This is not to say we will expect less, or more, because of our particular context, but that we should be completely aware and immersed in our context. Our standards and expectations should remain high, whatever our context. However, that context should help shape our curricular structures and our learning, giving these a real-life focus and connection. Our context will shape our development as well. Development in a small rural environment may look completely different to that in a large urban area, but the focuses will be the same. Whatever our context, we should be looking to develop learning and teaching, developing our staff individually and collaboratively, working in partnership with parents and others, including the community to develop our curriculum structures and enhance learning experiences. I would contend that we have to be informed by our context and community links and relationships, and that these will be different for each setting, and at different times in our journey. Such actions and attitudes, keep learning and schools grounded in their communities, and should be why a 'one-size-fits-all' approach will not work, but a 'one-size-fits-one' is a more realistic model for success.

When we have looked at the evidence and research situated within ourselves, our context and community, we then have to marry that to an engagement with the wider body of research. I have already stated that the field of educational research is fraught with difficulty, contradictions and complexity for the motivated teacher or school leader. How do we make sense of it all? The simple answer is, you can't. You could spend a life-time engaging with all the research that exists, and is being produced, around education, schools, systems and learning, and still not cover much of it. Therefore, you have to narrow your focus.

You need to narrow your focus in perhaps two main ways. One it should be narrowed in terms of what you are looking for, and, secondly in terms of the amount of researchers you are going to look at. I should qualify this by stating that I am considering this completely from the view of  practitioners looking to develop their practice and understanding, in order to produce positive impacts for their learners, in their context. Practitioners who wish to engage with higher academic study in order to improve their qualifications, as well as their knowledge and understanding, may well find that the expectations on them will be greater. Most practitioners will engage with research and evidence to help inform their practice or development. If you embark on post graduate study, you can expect to engage with more research and researchers, than would be possible for an in-school full-time practitioner seeking to address issues they have identified. Being informed by research as a practitioner has to be an expectation that is proportionate and manageable.

Through our practitioner enquiry work, we were able to narrow the focus of our search for research and evidence. We identified an issue, individually or collaboratively, then began to look at research about that issue, driven by the desire to eliminate the issue or improve it. Our focus was always small, and this helped us to be specific about the amount and type of research we looked at. I know researchers, or PhD students might throw their hands up and question the validity of what we engaged with as a result, but we were engaging for specific purposes, identified from our own research and our context. This was engaging with such research for immediate practical purposes, not to produce a literature review at the start of a thesis.

Because our focus was narrow, we were also able to keep the amount of researchers we engaged with narrow too. We were helped with this initially by our partnership working with Edinburgh University through Gillian Robinson, but as the years passed, and we became more experienced, we were better able to apply filters and limits ourselves. All the time we were engaging with different research and researchers, we began to build up a bank of such researchers who we trusted and valued, and who were held in some esteem by the profession. This acted as another filter as we got further down the line with enquiry. If you are unable to narrow your focus, your engagement with research will become another weight around your neck, instead of supportive. Also, a narrow focus, means it is so much easier to provide evidence as to the effectiveness of interventions and changes you introduce, as well as to have bigger impacts for your learners and yourself. If things don't improve or work out, a narrower focus also allows you to identify why this might have been the case.

Whatever research you do engage with, you should do so with a critical eye. But, most importantly, you have to learn to pick out the underlying principles, then apply and adjust then according to your context, and your own evidence about your own learners.

I will finish this post by observing that we still have much to learn and understand about all the factors at play in any dynamic learning situation, in schools, or in our education systems. Anyone who says, or thinks, they have all the answers is either lying or deluded. Wiliam is right, there will be strategies and approaches that work in one particular context, or for particular teachers, but which will fail completely when transferred to another context or teacher. They may not even work for the same teacher or context at a different point of time, or with a different cohort and dynamic of learners. School and teacher development is complex and messy and, no matter how much we would like it to be simplified into things we can all do, it will never happen. The best that we can hope for is that we continually explore and develop our understanding and our practice, based on all the factors above, and we can identify and agree principles that will underpin the actions we take. Where dichotomies exist, or emerge, we have to be able to recognise the truths that might lie within both sides of any discourse. This is can be a skill or challenge in its own right, as it may expose our own biases or entrenched viewpoints.

We are all practitioners and we should all be researchers. We have to blend the two to give us the opportunity to do the best we can, for all our learners, so that we may all become the 'intelligent medium of action' as advocated by John Dewey in 1895!