Author Archives: George Gilchrist

Becoming semi-detached⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Since I made the decision to retire from my Headteacher role before Christmas, I have found myself in a really strange position, both professionally and personally. I have become semi-detached from both my professional persona, and my personal one.

Since my imminent departure  became common knowledge, and I began to get my head round this change, I have found myself in a number of  almost surreal situations, where I am still thinking and acting as a headteacher, but at the same time I have been thinking of my future, as well as the next incumbent in my role. Sometimes this has made decision making easier, and sometimes decisions have become more difficult to make.

Decisions about future activities, that are to happen after the Easter break, have been a little easier. Some I have been able to ignore, delay or leave to the next person in post to consider. Trying to second guess what any new school leader may want to do, is difficult, and probably  undesirable. I still have to lead the two schools, but I also need to leave enough 'space' for the new headteacher to put their own mark on the role. The first part of that is quite easy, because I have still had to deal with all the daily issues that occur, and which I have dealt with throughout my career as a school leader. Such issues are a constant, as are the expectations of staff, parents and pupils. Even with these though, a bit of my mind  has also been distracted by the unfolding change ahead. There have been lots of times when I have been thinking 'well that's the last one of those, ever!' There have also been lots of times when staff, parents and even pupils have pointed out to me much the same. 'Well that's your last coffee-morning, parents evening, set of reports, headteacher meeting,' and so on. Such comments have been producing very mixed emotions, as I know I am going to miss many such activities in the future.

Of course, there is much I am not going to miss about being a headteacher. Mainly, these are to do with bureaucracy, accountability, having to prove everything you do, micromanagement, lack of trust, being a political football, and so on. The things I will miss are the people, the colleagues, the pupils, the parents, the communities and others who have bought into the vision of what we were about and supported me in delivering this. I will miss the events that happen on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, that bring the schools together and remind us of why we do what we do.


It is the people and the relationships that I will miss the most. Undoubtedly, some of these relationships are strong enough to endure. Certainly ones with staff and colleagues will continue, though may become a little more distant in nature, and less frequent. I am sure some of the relationships with pupils will last too, as I still meet former pupils who want to talk about times at school, having me as a teacher, different incidents and events. Indeed, one of the things I have noticed about contacts with former pupils, its the ones who caused you the most headaches and issues that are the ones who always want to speak to you and spend time reminiscing. Funny that.


However, it is my current mindset and situation that is the subject of this post. As I said at the start, I am really starting to feel detached, both in my mind and in my role. This is a strange place to be for  a headteacher still in post. I think it is probably a common experience for people in any job or career, once they have identified a leaving date. There is no doubt there is much I am looking forward to about retirement, and letting go of all the 'stuff' you are carrying in your head about your work will definitely be a highlight. I am also looking forward to the different opportunities presented by my new 'freedom' for action and thought. Just think, having your day totally shaped by yourself and the actions and thinking you wish, and not having them shaped by your role and demands and expectations of an employer? I am trying not to gloat, too much, and I am sure there will be challenges presented by retirement and the reshaping of my working and leisure patterns. I am hoping to be doing a lot more writing, I do have a book to finish, and to still be engaging with educators and leaders through conferences, the work of SCEL and other opportunities as they present themselves.


My aim at the moment is to complete my final two weeks, hopefully leaving enough in place to support whoever follows me. I am leaving whilst I still love my job, so I want it to end well next week. There are one or two events organised, including a night out with current and former staff and colleagues, which I have been promised is going to be 'a riot'. Not literally I hope! I am sure it will be fun and emotional, just like a lot of my career. The plan is to head for some sunshine for a short while, then return to really get stuck into that book. By then, I will be fully detached, physically, but I have a feeling I will still only be semi-detached emotionally.

Becoming semi-detached⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Since I made the decision to retire from my Headteacher role before Christmas, I have found myself in a really strange position, both professionally and personally. I have become semi-detached from both my professional persona, and my personal one.

Since my imminent departure  became common knowledge, and I began to get my head round this change, I have found myself in a number of  almost surreal situations, where I am still thinking and acting as a headteacher, but at the same time I have been thinking of my future, as well as the next incumbent in my role. Sometimes this has made decision making easier, and sometimes decisions have become more difficult to make.

Decisions about future activities, that are to happen after the Easter break, have been a little easier. Some I have been able to ignore, delay or leave to the next person in post to consider. Trying to second guess what any new school leader may want to do, is difficult, and probably  undesirable. I still have to lead the two schools, but I also need to leave enough 'space' for the new headteacher to put their own mark on the role. The first part of that is quite easy, because I have still had to deal with all the daily issues that occur, and which I have dealt with throughout my career as a school leader. Such issues are a constant, as are the expectations of staff, parents and pupils. Even with these though, a bit of my mind  has also been distracted by the unfolding change ahead. There have been lots of times when I have been thinking 'well that's the last one of those, ever!' There have also been lots of times when staff, parents and even pupils have pointed out to me much the same. 'Well that's your last coffee-morning, parents evening, set of reports, headteacher meeting,' and so on. Such comments have been producing very mixed emotions, as I know I am going to miss many such activities in the future.

Of course, there is much I am not going to miss about being a headteacher. Mainly, these are to do with bureaucracy, accountability, having to prove everything you do, micromanagement, lack of trust, being a political football, and so on. The things I will miss are the people, the colleagues, the pupils, the parents, the communities and others who have bought into the vision of what we were about and supported me in delivering this. I will miss the events that happen on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, that bring the schools together and remind us of why we do what we do.


It is the people and the relationships that I will miss the most. Undoubtedly, some of these relationships are strong enough to endure. Certainly ones with staff and colleagues will continue, though may become a little more distant in nature, and less frequent. I am sure some of the relationships with pupils will last too, as I still meet former pupils who want to talk about times at school, having me as a teacher, different incidents and events. Indeed, one of the things I have noticed about contacts with former pupils, its the ones who caused you the most headaches and issues that are the ones who always want to speak to you and spend time reminiscing. Funny that.


However, it is my current mindset and situation that is the subject of this post. As I said at the start, I am really starting to feel detached, both in my mind and in my role. This is a strange place to be for  a headteacher still in post. I think it is probably a common experience for people in any job or career, once they have identified a leaving date. There is no doubt there is much I am looking forward to about retirement, and letting go of all the 'stuff' you are carrying in your head about your work will definitely be a highlight. I am also looking forward to the different opportunities presented by my new 'freedom' for action and thought. Just think, having your day totally shaped by yourself and the actions and thinking you wish, and not having them shaped by your role and demands and expectations of an employer? I am trying not to gloat, too much, and I am sure there will be challenges presented by retirement and the reshaping of my working and leisure patterns. I am hoping to be doing a lot more writing, I do have a book to finish, and to still be engaging with educators and leaders through conferences, the work of SCEL and other opportunities as they present themselves.


My aim at the moment is to complete my final two weeks, hopefully leaving enough in place to support whoever follows me. I am leaving whilst I still love my job, so I want it to end well next week. There are one or two events organised, including a night out with current and former staff and colleagues, which I have been promised is going to be 'a riot'. Not literally I hope! I am sure it will be fun and emotional, just like a lot of my career. The plan is to head for some sunshine for a short while, then return to really get stuck into that book. By then, I will be fully detached, physically, but I have a feeling I will still only be semi-detached emotionally.

Unblocking those JAMs in the system⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

I attended a headteacher meeting this week, where amongst the discussions and dialogue, was consideration of what we might do in schools to help close attainment gaps, especially for those at risk because of deprivation factors. This does feel like a never-ending conversation that we have, but has particular significance at the moment given the national political agenda for education.  The Scottish Government have announced the provision of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) based on free school meals entitlement, which is to be paid directly to schools, as part of their strategy in driving forward excellence and delivering greater equity across the system. No matter what you think about this as a policy, there is no doubt that most schools are going to be in receipt of significant extra amounts of cash to help them deliver what the government, and schools themselves, are looking for.


Of course, as with all such funding there are strings attached, and it is clear that headteachers and schools will have to plan carefully, and collaboratively, how they will use this funding to make a difference. Additionally, they will have to show positive impacts for learners quickly, and over time. Again, you may question how quickly sustainable change can produce long-lasting impacts, but it is still incumbent on all schools and their leaders to ensure they spend this money wisely, and in order to have the greatest impact.


As headteachers, we were asked to identify issues that we thought were contributing to the gaps we identify, and to consider and discuss one of these with colleagues. The group I was part of were all focused on professional development of staff and we considered; the evidence we had for where the gaps were, professional development that works and has impact, and how we support all staff to move on in their practice and understanding. It was a fascinating discussion, with a mix of sectors and experiences that improved the richness of the dialogue and insights shared. Of course, we didn't come up with any answers or solutions, but often the first step in addressing issues is their identification and then the discussion around different perceptions and understandings of them.

As part of our conversations, we talked about the difficulty presented by teachers 'who were just doing enough' or who lacked high levels of 'personal awareness and insight'. To use the current particular political vernacular, we called these the JAMs, the just about managing teachers. These teachers present a variety of challenges for school leaders. However, such challenges are not such that they fall into the 'under-performance' category. What they do however, is have an impact on the consistency of pupil learning experiences, attainment and achievement, as well as teacher confidence. Of course, there may be a whole host of reasons for teachers falling into this category, some of which might have no connection to their working environment at all, and school leaders need to be aware of this possibility. Never assume anything.


But, given that everything else in their lives is in kilter, what should we do about such JAMs? We all agreed that taking the 'individual' out of the equation is often a good first step. To address this we should approach the issues from the point of view of the learning being experienced by the learners, it should not be about the individual, but how we can support them to improve the learning experiences for all their learners. I would argue that this is why culture is so important in schools, if we have created a collaborative culture based on common values, and trust, then it becomes easier to address such issues with individuals. What we can't do is give up on any teacher, or accept that they can't, or won't, try to improve their practice and understanding. But with the right culture, you are much more likely to get 'buy in' from such teachers.

JAM teachers can feel threatened by younger teachers, or older ones, who do not exhibit the same characteristics and attitude to their work as they do. But, buddying them up, and encouraging whole-school collaboration, can have positive impacts. Often, this takes time and will result in slow progress, but it is still progress. Slowly moving forward is much preferable to not moving forward at all, indeed we have perhaps all been guilty of trying to go too fast and cover too much too quickly. I have long thought that we can achieve more by slowing down and taking smaller steps. The best support we can give to JAMs is to try to understand them, help them identify where they might improve, then lead them through the small steps they can keep taking to achieve that. Writing them off or feeling you need to get them to move on or leave, just exhibits a fixed mindset of your own, not theirs. Everyone can improve their performance and their learning, when they don't this is a teacher problem, not a learner  problem. Sound familiar? We should view the staff we work with exactly like our learners. They are all individuals and are at different points in their learning journey and development. They will have gaps in their learning and understanding, and our role is to help them identify these, then provide support to address these, as part of an on-going and career-long process. This helps them, our learners, and our schools to keep moving forward.

As a post note, I would add that what I have written above can be equally applied to school leaders. Ther are many JAM school leaders who need similar support and understanding, to improve their practice and their confidence and their line-managers and system leaders need to recognise this too.

Unblocking those JAMs in the system⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

I attended a headteacher meeting this week, where amongst the discussions and dialogue, was consideration of what we might do in schools to help close attainment gaps, especially for those at risk because of deprivation factors. This does feel like a never-ending conversation that we have, but has particular significance at the moment given the national political agenda for education.  The Scottish Government have announced the provision of Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) based on free school meals entitlement, which is to be paid directly to schools, as part of their strategy in driving forward excellence and delivering greater equity across the system. No matter what you think about this as a policy, there is no doubt that most schools are going to be in receipt of significant extra amounts of cash to help them deliver what the government, and schools themselves, are looking for.


Of course, as with all such funding there are strings attached, and it is clear that headteachers and schools will have to plan carefully, and collaboratively, how they will use this funding to make a difference. Additionally, they will have to show positive impacts for learners quickly, and over time. Again, you may question how quickly sustainable change can produce long-lasting impacts, but it is still incumbent on all schools and their leaders to ensure they spend this money wisely, and in order to have the greatest impact.


As headteachers, we were asked to identify issues that we thought were contributing to the gaps we identify, and to consider and discuss one of these with colleagues. The group I was part of were all focused on professional development of staff and we considered; the evidence we had for where the gaps were, professional development that works and has impact, and how we support all staff to move on in their practice and understanding. It was a fascinating discussion, with a mix of sectors and experiences that improved the richness of the dialogue and insights shared. Of course, we didn't come up with any answers or solutions, but often the first step in addressing issues is their identification and then the discussion around different perceptions and understandings of them.

As part of our conversations, we talked about the difficulty presented by teachers 'who were just doing enough' or who lacked high levels of 'personal awareness and insight'. To use the current particular political vernacular, we called these the JAMs, the just about managing teachers. These teachers present a variety of challenges for school leaders. However, such challenges are not such that they fall into the 'under-performance' category. What they do however, is have an impact on the consistency of pupil learning experiences, attainment and achievement, as well as teacher confidence. Of course, there may be a whole host of reasons for teachers falling into this category, some of which might have no connection to their working environment at all, and school leaders need to be aware of this possibility. Never assume anything.


But, given that everything else in their lives is in kilter, what should we do about such JAMs? We all agreed that taking the 'individual' out of the equation is often a good first step. To address this we should approach the issues from the point of view of the learning being experienced by the learners, it should not be about the individual, but how we can support them to improve the learning experiences for all their learners. I would argue that this is why culture is so important in schools, if we have created a collaborative culture based on common values, and trust, then it becomes easier to address such issues with individuals. What we can't do is give up on any teacher, or accept that they can't, or won't, try to improve their practice and understanding. But with the right culture, you are much more likely to get 'buy in' from such teachers.

JAM teachers can feel threatened by younger teachers, or older ones, who do not exhibit the same characteristics and attitude to their work as they do. But, buddying them up, and encouraging whole-school collaboration, can have positive impacts. Often, this takes time and will result in slow progress, but it is still progress. Slowly moving forward is much preferable to not moving forward at all, indeed we have perhaps all been guilty of trying to go too fast and cover too much too quickly. I have long thought that we can achieve more by slowing down and taking smaller steps. The best support we can give to JAMs is to try to understand them, help them identify where they might improve, then lead them through the small steps they can keep taking to achieve that. Writing them off or feeling you need to get them to move on or leave, just exhibits a fixed mindset of your own, not theirs. Everyone can improve their performance and their learning, when they don't this is a teacher problem, not a learner  problem. Sound familiar? We should view the staff we work with exactly like our learners. They are all individuals and are at different points in their learning journey and development. They will have gaps in their learning and understanding, and our role is to help them identify these, then provide support to address these, as part of an on-going and career-long process. This helps them, our learners, and our schools to keep moving forward.

As a post note, I would add that what I have written above can be equally applied to school leaders. Ther are many JAM school leaders who need similar support and understanding, to improve their practice and their confidence and their line-managers and system leaders need to recognise this too.

Just doing the best we can, continually⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective



 







I was intrigued to see on Twitter last week a debate about whether Ofsted should be looking to remove gradings, and especially 'outstanding', given to schools following the inspection process. One person commented along the lines that if a school was performing to a 'good' standard, that should be enough. I tended to agree with them. In Scotland we don't have 'outstanding' schools, we have 'excellent' ones, as this is the top grading awarded in our inspection process. Something for some schools to feel proud of, others to aspire to and everyone else to feel inadequate about. Dylan Wiliam is often quoted as saying that 'teaching is the only profession where we know we are going to come in and know we are going to fail every day.' By this, he is simply pointing out that teaching, and learning, are very complex activities and with so many variables, that we can never get it absolutely right, for every pupil and on every day. We are doomed to always knowing that we could always do better!


I know a few headteachers who have received 'Excellent' gradings for their schools following an inspection, but who still say things like, 'I actually don't think we are excellent' or 'there is still lots we can get better at'. It is good to hear them say things like that, and I think they are genuine in their assessments, no matter what any external report may say. We can all get better, and we should all be aiming to get better at what we do. We should be doing this as part of our professional responsibilities, and because of our intrinsic values and motivation. Not because of our desire to impress external assessors, determined to hold us to account, and finding us wanting against their notion of what an excellent school looks like, or against other schools in other contexts. We stopped ranking pupils a long time ago, though I see this is gaining popularity again in some establishments in other systems, so why should we do this to schools? Do we really need to be forced to get better at what we do? In my experience, most schools and teachers, have this characteristic at the core of their practice. Of course, there will be a few who are not intrinsically motivated, or who find themselves in a place of being hopelessly overwhelmed by all they have to do. Instead of ridiculing and hanging such teachers and schools out to dry, or damming them with 'grades' awarded, we should look to support them to get better, just as we do with learners.


I have written before about the 'illusion of accountability' provided by the inspection process. We are all complicit in this and organisations, systems and governments use the 'data' provided to judge schools and teachers, even though we may have huge concerns over the validity and usefulness of such 'data'. I my view, we should start from the premise that all schools and teachers are doing the best they can at particular points in time, and given the challenges they all face. I love this quote from Maya Angelou, 'Do the best you can, until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.' I am a different and better school leader and teacher than I was 10 yrs ago, because I now know better than I did then. I have learned from experience, developing my tacit knowledge and understandings, and I have learned from research about leadership and learning, and through collaborations in my on-going professional development. What I was doing 10yrs ago was probably good for then, but not for now.


I use the same approach with teachers. All the teachers I work with are different and better teachers than they were 10 yrs ago, because they have grown and developed their understandings and their practice. Some have grown more than others, but that's okay, because they are all individuals, they all started from different points and they have all had different experiences, both personally and professionally, during this time. That's life! I don't expect them to be perfect, I expect them to fail at times, but I do expect them to keep growing and developing throughout their careers, not because I say they must, but because they want to. I know they are all trying to do the best they can. None of them comes into school each day  thinking 'I want to do a bad job for my learners today.' But I recognise they will have days where that might happen, we all do. My job is to create the conditions that allow them to do the best they can, and to do this over time and for all learners. If teachers are growing, in terms of their understanding, practice and impact on learning, then the schools they work in are doing the same. We don't need a grade to tell us this. What we need is support and time for this to happen.


In Finland there are no inspections of schools and high levels of trust in teachers, schools and the system. This is not the same in our own system, nor many others, because we have allowed ourselves to be dictated to by unqualified and less knowledgeable 'outsiders'. Education is too important to society to be seen as a business, or a vehicle for political ambition and toughness. Yes, we need to be accountable, but such accountability is best expressed in terms of the learners we ultimately produce and their positive impacts in society. We have let control of curriculum and learning and teaching slip from professional hands, and be dictated by those who have smaller agendas and priorities, and more to do with providing fodder for business, industry and global markets.


We all need systems, structures and leaders that help us to be the best we can continually.

Just doing the best we can, continually⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective



 







I was intrigued to see on Twitter last week a debate about whether Ofsted should be looking to remove gradings, and especially 'outstanding', given to schools following the inspection process. One person commented along the lines that if a school was performing to a 'good' standard, that should be enough. I tended to agree with them. In Scotland we don't have 'outstanding' schools, we have 'excellent' ones, as this is the top grading awarded in our inspection process. Something for some schools to feel proud of, others to aspire to and everyone else to feel inadequate about. Dylan Wiliam is often quoted as saying that 'teaching is the only profession where we know we are going to come in and know we are going to fail every day.' By this, he is simply pointing out that teaching, and learning, are very complex activities and with so many variables, that we can never get it absolutely right, for every pupil and on every day. We are doomed to always knowing that we could always do better!


I know a few headteachers who have received 'Excellent' gradings for their schools following an inspection, but who still say things like, 'I actually don't think we are excellent' or 'there is still lots we can get better at'. It is good to hear them say things like that, and I think they are genuine in their assessments, no matter what any external report may say. We can all get better, and we should all be aiming to get better at what we do. We should be doing this as part of our professional responsibilities, and because of our intrinsic values and motivation. Not because of our desire to impress external assessors, determined to hold us to account, and finding us wanting against their notion of what an excellent school looks like, or against other schools in other contexts. We stopped ranking pupils a long time ago, though I see this is gaining popularity again in some establishments in other systems, so why should we do this to schools? Do we really need to be forced to get better at what we do? In my experience, most schools and teachers, have this characteristic at the core of their practice. Of course, there will be a few who are not intrinsically motivated, or who find themselves in a place of being hopelessly overwhelmed by all they have to do. Instead of ridiculing and hanging such teachers and schools out to dry, or damming them with 'grades' awarded, we should look to support them to get better, just as we do with learners.


I have written before about the 'illusion of accountability' provided by the inspection process. We are all complicit in this and organisations, systems and governments use the 'data' provided to judge schools and teachers, even though we may have huge concerns over the validity and usefulness of such 'data'. I my view, we should start from the premise that all schools and teachers are doing the best they can at particular points in time, and given the challenges they all face. I love this quote from Maya Angelou, 'Do the best you can, until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.' I am a different and better school leader and teacher than I was 10 yrs ago, because I now know better than I did then. I have learned from experience, developing my tacit knowledge and understandings, and I have learned from research about leadership and learning, and through collaborations in my on-going professional development. What I was doing 10yrs ago was probably good for then, but not for now.


I use the same approach with teachers. All the teachers I work with are different and better teachers than they were 10 yrs ago, because they have grown and developed their understandings and their practice. Some have grown more than others, but that's okay, because they are all individuals, they all started from different points and they have all had different experiences, both personally and professionally, during this time. That's life! I don't expect them to be perfect, I expect them to fail at times, but I do expect them to keep growing and developing throughout their careers, not because I say they must, but because they want to. I know they are all trying to do the best they can. None of them comes into school each day  thinking 'I want to do a bad job for my learners today.' But I recognise they will have days where that might happen, we all do. My job is to create the conditions that allow them to do the best they can, and to do this over time and for all learners. If teachers are growing, in terms of their understanding, practice and impact on learning, then the schools they work in are doing the same. We don't need a grade to tell us this. What we need is support and time for this to happen.


In Finland there are no inspections of schools and high levels of trust in teachers, schools and the system. This is not the same in our own system, nor many others, because we have allowed ourselves to be dictated to by unqualified and less knowledgeable 'outsiders'. Education is too important to society to be seen as a business, or a vehicle for political ambition and toughness. Yes, we need to be accountable, but such accountability is best expressed in terms of the learners we ultimately produce and their positive impacts in society. We have let control of curriculum and learning and teaching slip from professional hands, and be dictated by those who have smaller agendas and priorities, and more to do with providing fodder for business, industry and global markets.


We all need systems, structures and leaders that help us to be the best we can continually.

What does leadership look like in your school?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

A really good question for teachers to ask of their learners is, 'what does it look like when you are learning?' If you give this question to pupils and ask them to draw or write about themselves learning, you will often get a picture of a pupil, on their own, perhaps at a desk, and with a pencil or pen, jotter and books. They might include a computer screen and, if you are lucky, the child in the picture may be smiling. Not so in the example below.




If you have not carried out this exercise, try it. You may be surprised at the results. What you get is the child's construct of what learning is, and what it looks and feels like. If you get results like the one above, you can explore this more with the learner and it can give you some remarkable insights into how leaning is perceived by the learners in your class. It can also be a stimulus for some soul-searching and reflection on your own part. I suspect if you were asked to draw learning taking place in your classroom, or elsewhere, it would look a lot different. So, what's happening between what you think is going on and the learners think is going on?


When you begin to consider this further, you may start to explore and shift your own practice, as well as your learner's understanding of what learning is and how it may look. Yes, there will be times when learning is an individual pursuit, involving reading and writing activities, but more often it is a collaborative endeavour, shaped by others you are learning with. Learning can take place everywhere, not just at school and in a classroom. Some of the most significant learning we experience happens outside of school and when our senses and emotions are fully engaged and employed. When learners begin to recognise and understand this, you are more likely to get pictures with more people in them, not just the individual and the odd teacher. You may get them sitting on the floor with friends and classmates, and you may get them pictured outside in some other environment. You may even have pictures of them playing!


All of this is genuine feedback around their understanding of what learning is, and looks like. The more sophisticated their understanding of learning as a creative, social and cognitive process, the more this will be reflected in their compositions. When learners keep depicting learning as an individual activity, sat at a desk, in a classroom, we have evidence of the model or schema of learning we have created, or imposed on them, and this should make us all think about our practice.


Lets now consider what school leadership looks like as a school leader, through the adoption of a similar approach. If you asked staff, all staff, in the school to draw or write about what leadership looks and feels like, what would you expect to see? Would they show a hierarchy, with the headteacher or principal at the top and cleaners at the bottom, or would they show something else?




This could well be another insightful activity for school leaders to try out with staff. You may need to do this in an anonymised way, in order to get true feedback, and I suppose it may be a difficult activity for a lot of school leaders to undertake. But, I think if you genuinely want to know what 'leadership' feels and looks like to staff in a school, this may be an effective way of capturing that, which is less threatening, and more honest, than some other tools commonly use for such purposes.

You would have some pretty powerful insights into perceptions around leadership amongst all staff. You may ask staff to include job-titles to help you analyse the results across the school. In my view,  it would be great if the illustrations you receive show collaboration and co-operation happening, along with flattened hierarchies, as well as individuals demonstrating 'leadership' roles and activities. But even if this is not the case, you still have some very useful feedback for you as a school leader to reflect on. Perhaps there are still too many deluded headteachers, and senior managers, out there who's perception of how they are as leaders is completely different to how this is seen by the people they are supposed to be leading. Before anything can be done about this, a school leader has to become aware, and this suggestion might be a useful strategy to help you with that awareness raising first step.











What does leadership look like in your school?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

A really good question for teachers to ask of their learners is, 'what does it look like when you are learning?' If you give this question to pupils and ask them to draw or write about themselves learning, you will often get a picture of a pupil, on their own, perhaps at a desk, and with a pencil or pen, jotter and books. They might include a computer screen and, if you are lucky, the child in the picture may be smiling. Not so in the example below.




If you have not carried out this exercise, try it. You may be surprised at the results. What you get is the child's construct of what learning is, and what it looks and feels like. If you get results like the one above, you can explore this more with the learner and it can give you some remarkable insights into how leaning is perceived by the learners in your class. It can also be a stimulus for some soul-searching and reflection on your own part. I suspect if you were asked to draw learning taking place in your classroom, or elsewhere, it would look a lot different. So, what's happening between what you think is going on and the learners think is going on?


When you begin to consider this further, you may start to explore and shift your own practice, as well as your learner's understanding of what learning is and how it may look. Yes, there will be times when learning is an individual pursuit, involving reading and writing activities, but more often it is a collaborative endeavour, shaped by others you are learning with. Learning can take place everywhere, not just at school and in a classroom. Some of the most significant learning we experience happens outside of school and when our senses and emotions are fully engaged and employed. When learners begin to recognise and understand this, you are more likely to get pictures with more people in them, not just the individual and the odd teacher. You may get them sitting on the floor with friends and classmates, and you may get them pictured outside in some other environment. You may even have pictures of them playing!


All of this is genuine feedback around their understanding of what learning is, and looks like. The more sophisticated their understanding of learning as a creative, social and cognitive process, the more this will be reflected in their compositions. When learners keep depicting learning as an individual activity, sat at a desk, in a classroom, we have evidence of the model or schema of learning we have created, or imposed on them, and this should make us all think about our practice.


Lets now consider what school leadership looks like as a school leader, through the adoption of a similar approach. If you asked staff, all staff, in the school to draw or write about what leadership looks and feels like, what would you expect to see? Would they show a hierarchy, with the headteacher or principal at the top and cleaners at the bottom, or would they show something else?




This could well be another insightful activity for school leaders to try out with staff. You may need to do this in an anonymised way, in order to get true feedback, and I suppose it may be a difficult activity for a lot of school leaders to undertake. But, I think if you genuinely want to know what 'leadership' feels and looks like to staff in a school, this may be an effective way of capturing that, which is less threatening, and more honest, than some other tools commonly use for such purposes.

You would have some pretty powerful insights into perceptions around leadership amongst all staff. You may ask staff to include job-titles to help you analyse the results across the school. In my view,  it would be great if the illustrations you receive show collaboration and co-operation happening, along with flattened hierarchies, as well as individuals demonstrating 'leadership' roles and activities. But even if this is not the case, you still have some very useful feedback for you as a school leader to reflect on. Perhaps there are still too many deluded headteachers, and senior managers, out there who's perception of how they are as leaders is completely different to how this is seen by the people they are supposed to be leading. Before anything can be done about this, a school leader has to become aware, and this suggestion might be a useful strategy to help you with that awareness raising first step.











Differentiated Learning and Development for School Leaders⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

As a headteacher for eighteen years now, I have completed and endured lots of professional development. Some of this was truly inspirational and has had profound effects and impacts on my thinking and my practice. Unfortunately, a lot of it failed to deliver the same outcomes. I would say that the professional development and learning that has had the greatest impact have been those identified and chosen by myself, as part of a process of continual reflection and professional development and growth, matched to my individual needs. Why would it be any other way? The trouble is that is not how a lot of centrally organised professional development for leaders operates. It should, but it doesn't. 'Yet!' as Carol Dweck might observe.


No, as a school leader you are subject to much learning and professional development, that is identified and directed at you by your employers. When I first began my journey of professional development as a new school leader, I was like a sponge, soaking up all the development opportunities I was offered, in a bid to learn more and up-skill myself and my practice, and as quickly as I could. Some of this was good and useful, but plenty was less so and was quickly discarded, if not altogether forgotten. A memorable early session had myself and colleagues standing in a marked out swimming pool on a training room floor, with the depth of water we chose indicating where we were now in our understanding of Curriculum for Excellence. A true example of 'drowning, not waving' as far as I was concerned!


Local Authorities, who employ most headteachers, also recognise they have a duty to develop those headteachers and help them to grow. Unfortunately, they often choose to do this by devising a series 'Headteacher Development Days' and proceed to do it to them. Trouble is, that model doesn't work very well. What does work is a process and programme of leadership development that is tailored to individuals and their needs. 'One size fits all' doesn't work in school development and neither does it in leadership development. It was only as I became more experienced, and continued to read and engage with research, that I really recognised the power, and necessity, of professional development that was part of an on-going process and which was tailored to my needs



Graham Donaldson recognised in 'Teaching Scotland's Future', published by Scottish Government in 2010, that there were issues around professional development for all school leaders, but especially for experienced school leaders. He recommended the setting up of a virtual Scottish College for Educational Leadership, and that this college should consider how it could help experienced headteachers continue their development, as well as how the system could tap into that experience that resided in those practitioners. Out of this emerged SCEL, which has become very real and not so virtual, and I was pleased to be part of the first cohort of Fellows of the college. This took my professional learning and development to another level. SCEL is now firmly established as an organisation that is providing leadership development and pathways at all levels in Scotland, and this professional development is very much shaped jointly by the college and the participants to meet their needs.


 I think there are probably two main issues to consider in the light of this. the first is that school leaders really need to take charge of their own professional development. Just as they ask of their teachers, they need to be reflective about their practice, and their impact on learning. They should be able to identify their strengths and to be equally honest in identifying the areas they need to develop further. They then have to consider the ways they may develop their thinking and practice. This will almost certainly be through professional reading and engagement with research as part of a collaborative, but tailored process. Some of this they may do individually, and arrange themselves, other parts might require the support of organisations like SCEL or universities. They may even use Social Media like Twitter and blogs as a stimulus for more thinking and consideration of how they may be more effective. Whichever route they choose, they need to keep in mind that this should all be part of a career-long process of professional development and growth that is done by them, not to them. Professional development cannot just be lifted off a shelf and completed, its about a disposition to keep on learning and developing. One-off events can be just that, or they can be part of an on-going and meaningful process to support professional and personal growth.


The second consideration is for local authorities. If they haven't already done so, they really need to consider their programmes for headteacher development to see if they are fit for purpose. Delivering the same training to all headteachers, no matter their level of experience, or development needs, just won't cut it any more. Too many headteacher hours are still being wasted by headteacher development days that are generic in nature, and which have little use for many in the room. Headteachers are just like any other learners, they will all be at different stages of professional development and so this needs to be pitched so that it helps them to move on, not get frustrated by another wasted day out of school. Days in school are precious, if we are giving them up this has to be for something worthwhile and which will help move our own, and our school's practice forwards. Fortunately, we are seeing some movement on this, but we still have a some way to go.

Differentiated Learning and Development for School Leaders⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

As a headteacher for eighteen years now, I have completed and endured lots of professional development. Some of this was truly inspirational and has had profound effects and impacts on my thinking and my practice. Unfortunately, a lot of it failed to deliver the same outcomes. I would say that the professional development and learning that has had the greatest impact have been those identified and chosen by myself, as part of a process of continual reflection and professional development and growth, matched to my individual needs. Why would it be any other way? The trouble is that is not how a lot of centrally organised professional development for leaders operates. It should, but it doesn't. 'Yet!' as Carol Dweck might observe.


No, as a school leader you are subject to much learning and professional development, that is identified and directed at you by your employers. When I first began my journey of professional development as a new school leader, I was like a sponge, soaking up all the development opportunities I was offered, in a bid to learn more and up-skill myself and my practice, and as quickly as I could. Some of this was good and useful, but plenty was less so and was quickly discarded, if not altogether forgotten. A memorable early session had myself and colleagues standing in a marked out swimming pool on a training room floor, with the depth of water we chose indicating where we were now in our understanding of Curriculum for Excellence. A true example of 'drowning, not waving' as far as I was concerned!


Local Authorities, who employ most headteachers, also recognise they have a duty to develop those headteachers and help them to grow. Unfortunately, they often choose to do this by devising a series 'Headteacher Development Days' and proceed to do it to them. Trouble is, that model doesn't work very well. What does work is a process and programme of leadership development that is tailored to individuals and their needs. 'One size fits all' doesn't work in school development and neither does it in leadership development. It was only as I became more experienced, and continued to read and engage with research, that I really recognised the power, and necessity, of professional development that was part of an on-going process and which was tailored to my needs



Graham Donaldson recognised in 'Teaching Scotland's Future', published by Scottish Government in 2010, that there were issues around professional development for all school leaders, but especially for experienced school leaders. He recommended the setting up of a virtual Scottish College for Educational Leadership, and that this college should consider how it could help experienced headteachers continue their development, as well as how the system could tap into that experience that resided in those practitioners. Out of this emerged SCEL, which has become very real and not so virtual, and I was pleased to be part of the first cohort of Fellows of the college. This took my professional learning and development to another level. SCEL is now firmly established as an organisation that is providing leadership development and pathways at all levels in Scotland, and this professional development is very much shaped jointly by the college and the participants to meet their needs.


 I think there are probably two main issues to consider in the light of this. the first is that school leaders really need to take charge of their own professional development. Just as they ask of their teachers, they need to be reflective about their practice, and their impact on learning. They should be able to identify their strengths and to be equally honest in identifying the areas they need to develop further. They then have to consider the ways they may develop their thinking and practice. This will almost certainly be through professional reading and engagement with research as part of a collaborative, but tailored process. Some of this they may do individually, and arrange themselves, other parts might require the support of organisations like SCEL or universities. They may even use Social Media like Twitter and blogs as a stimulus for more thinking and consideration of how they may be more effective. Whichever route they choose, they need to keep in mind that this should all be part of a career-long process of professional development and growth that is done by them, not to them. Professional development cannot just be lifted off a shelf and completed, its about a disposition to keep on learning and developing. One-off events can be just that, or they can be part of an on-going and meaningful process to support professional and personal growth.


The second consideration is for local authorities. If they haven't already done so, they really need to consider their programmes for headteacher development to see if they are fit for purpose. Delivering the same training to all headteachers, no matter their level of experience, or development needs, just won't cut it any more. Too many headteacher hours are still being wasted by headteacher development days that are generic in nature, and which have little use for many in the room. Headteachers are just like any other learners, they will all be at different stages of professional development and so this needs to be pitched so that it helps them to move on, not get frustrated by another wasted day out of school. Days in school are precious, if we are giving them up this has to be for something worthwhile and which will help move our own, and our school's practice forwards. Fortunately, we are seeing some movement on this, but we still have a some way to go.