Author Archives: lenabellina

Sarah Jayne Blakemore comes to Edinburgh.⤴


Back in March 2015 I heard the following episode of Jim Al-Khalili’s ‘The Life Scientific’ with Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

In listening to this short programme, I felt a real ‘eureka’ moment; after many long years of working with teenagers and knowing instinctively that they are amazing, full of potential and worthy of being treated as different to both children and adults, a scientific, intelligent and sensible voice on the radio was backing up my instinct with research.

I was desperate to know more. I looked up SARAH-JAYNE’s Ted talk (, read as much as I could about her ideas ( and began to get evangelical about her ideas. At the time I was an acting education support officer working in schools and training on behaviour, learning and additional support needs and I began to use her ideas in my training. I talked about how we need to understand that ‘teenage’ behaviour (such as risk-taking and sensitivity to peer influence), so often maligned and seen as ‘difficult’ is in fact a key part of adolescent development and crucial to the teenager’s un-attachment from care-givers (who won’t be around for ever) and attachment to those of a similar age (who are more likely to be around for longer). But I also talked about the fact that the brain’s plasticity means than teenagers must not be written off as unable to learn new things – including positive attachments and behaviours – and that we have to resist the obsession with putting all of our money and efforts into the early years and to fight against the misconception that EARLY INTERVENTION is EARLY YEARS INTERVENTION. I have known numerous children over the years who sailed through childhood with no issues or difficulties but then suddenly fell apart in adolescence, only to find that support from agencies was inaccessible as they were ‘too old’. As if it would be a waste of money or too costly to intervene with them instead of intervening with a younger child with more ‘potential for recovery’. Grrrrr.

Sarah-Jayne’s science and research helped me to champion the cause of the adolescent in a way that I had never been able to before.

In the summer of 2015 I was delighted to hear that a play had been produced with Islington Youth Theatre and the National Theatre ( and more delighted to discover that Ned Glasier, the director, had been a drama pupil of mine back at Shene School in 1994, and a very fine Salieri at that. These small world coincidences keep me going.

On returning to my school and Deputy Head post last May, I took my passion for Sarah-Jayne’s ideas with me and introduced a module in PSE for all of our 4th year pupils on the teenage brain and how understanding the science is so important for learning. I reference her regularly in my assemblies ( and blogs

Last week I made my first foray into the world of being a ‘teacher voice’ in a TESS article and quoted Sarah-Jayne’s ideas when commenting on the fact that girls seem to feel that their voices go unheard at the time of transition from primary to secondary school.

And so last night it was an absolute joy and privilege to hear her speak live in Edinburgh at the RSA Scotland annual Angus Miller lecture.

It was great to see a number of young people in the audience and to learn that Young Scot had played a large part in the organisation of the event.

It was also a privilege to be accompanied to the event by my thirteen year old daughter. Aside from Sarah-Jayne’s own children, I think that she may have been the youngest person there. And she loved it.

(On the way home she quietly told me that I can’t have a go at her for going to bed too late, sleeping in late and wanting to be on her screen….because Sarah-Jayne says that those things are ok.)


Every secondary teacher in Scotland should have been in that room with us. Everyone who has chosen to accept the privilege of working with this fascinating and inspiring tribe should know about these ideas and listen to Sarah-Jayne.

I am hugely grateful to her for coming to Scotland and to the RSA for making it happen.


Below are some notes that I took and photos of the slides. This is what I heard Sarah Jayne say and what I took from it: others may have heard or interpreted differently and I sure there will be other posts about the lecture. If you want to know more, look at Sarah Jayne’s research and read her books.

If you don’t have time, these are the three messages that you need to hear right now:

  • The education system we have does not suit what we know to be true about the teenage brain. Things need to change.
  • We need to listen to teenagers when designing their education
  • Let’s not give up on people who have not done very well early on.

(and a PS to the lady who spoke who spoke so very well in the Q and A about children who are vulnerable: I am a drama teacher and will fight tooth and nail to preserve it in schools; I was a dramatherapist and it informs every bit of my educational practice and I hope to be a head teacher one day…..There is hope.)


Sarah Jayne began with explaining her reasons for coming into this field:

Degree and post doc on schizophrenia

Asked question re when symptoms started (eg voices and delusions)

Found that it was mostly between ages if 18 and 25


Why does late teenage brain dev go wrong in those individuals?

Little research back then into teen brain so went into that – ended up making that her main focus.

75% of adult mental health disorders start in adolescence


Adolescence is defined as the period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal and physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable, independent role in society.

Adolescence starts with puberty (easy to define)

Ends with when you take independent role in society (woolly!)

Unique period of biological, psychological and sociological development.

Expectations around age of independence are culturally varied – may stay with parents until mid-20s or leave much earlier.

However Sarah-Jayne says that there are commonalities in all adolescents across all cultures.

Risk taking, socialisation are key factors.

Studies done on mice who have about 30 days of adolescence:


Study published about 3 weeks ago:

Shows similar patterns across different cultures.


Based on experimental tasks and questionnaires.

Strikingly similar patterns across cultures and across history:


Adolescence is period when social self goes through profound transition.

Most of our memories that are most vivid are from the teenage years and early 20s.

Moral and political beliefs and sense of self develop hugely in teenage years .


Lots of research on risk taking and teens has been done.

There is some evidence (no of deaths etc) that teenagers take increased risks.

In some ways this is to be expected as teenagers are given more freedom…

Peer influence is critical issue.

Larry Steinberg research:


Friends standing behind a teenager during a lab test on risk-taking has a HUGE effect.

This is backed up by insurance company data.

Young person is most likely to have car accident with more peer passengers in car… Up to age of 25. Adults with passengers are less likely to have an accident.

Are adolescents sensitive to fear of social exclusion?

Used cyberball experiment.

(Seemed advanced tech in 2000! Not now)


The experiment was about excluding  the player from the game (manipulated by the tester)


Low mood and anxiety in adolescents is SIGNIFICANT when excluded by others.


When we make decisions there are always different elements at play.

Social pressure is important (eg football hooligan phenomenon).

Social element iS VERY important for teens.

Eg smoking – health risk would be less important than peer ostracism .


Experiment at London Science Museum:

Asked people to rate the risk of various situations.

Then told them what other teens and adults had allegedly said:


Then tested again to see the change in rating after the provided rating:


All five age groups shifted rating significantly.

What about whose provided ratings they were?


Children, young adults and adults are more influenced by adult ratings.

Mid adolescents are equally influenced by adults and adolescents.

Young adolescents are influenced most by other adolescents.

Adolescents are influenced by social norms and peer influence.

Health awareness  and public health advertising should be aware of this and look to change social norms and engage peer influence.

Sarah-Jayne referenced an anti bullying campaign I the US – most effective where there was child led interventions

Effect was greatest where the popular kids led the campaign.

Brain research

Was not much on teenagers when Sarah-Jayne was studying:


Just WRONG! Now know that myelination goes on into 20s.

Everything has changed due to MRI scans.


Social brain


Mentalising is same as theory of mind- being able to understand people’s hidden mental states through facial expression or behaviour.


Used to think that children develop this around 4 or 5 but have realised it is probably more like 18 months

What about adolescent mentalising?


Scanners show that these parts are activated when we think about others/ mentalising

How do these 4 regions develop in adolescence?

Study done by Jay Giedd – longitudinal study so very useful.


Grey matter peaks in late childhood then decreases in adolescence.

Replicated in a Dutch study.

Only part where grey matter does not decline is adolescence is the part related to vision at back of brain.

Decline in grey matter then levels off for many years before declining again in old age.


In adolescence the brain becomes more white (myelination) and less grey.

Synapses and connections are made in childhood- more that will ever be needed.

Connections which are used are kept but are pruned away if not used during adolescence.

No such thing as an average teenager.

Casey and Steinberg thought risk taking occurs when there is a mismatch between the limbic regions (getting a kick) and prefrontal regions:


They suggested that limbic brain matures sooner that prefrontal cortex.

Sarah-Jayne and colleagues wanted to prove this:


Average data suggested yes but individual data was messy!!!

What accounts for the big differences between individuals?

Can’t tell from the Casey/Steinberg data as done 10 yrs ago- no risk question was asked.

More research being done now.


This is a big assumption in education but Saarh-Jayne wanted to challenge this:


This is used in IQ and entrance exams as they think it is not trainable. (It is!!)


Non verbal is very trainable and IMPROVED across adolescence.



Learning does not always decline with age.

Can do lots of really useful tests on animals around social interaction and the impact of brain development.

Education – what are the key issues?

Sleep patterns are important

We make them get up in the middle of what is their night!! Does not suit  them but DOES suit society which wants to get up and out at 8.

Does not suit adolescent brain.

Evidence suggests that we should let them sleep later.

Suggestion- involve adolescents in designing their education.

UCL academy in London- not a Shakespearean school – good model.

Break out spaces

Peer to peer learning

Young people influenced in the design.

Tree of Knowledge – Study Skills⤴


A week ago today we had another day working with Tree of Knowledge; this time our S4 pupils worked with the brilliant Daryl on study skills.

Some of the S4s missed the session and I promised that I would write a summary for them. Of course, notes like this are a poor substitute for the session because, with Tree of Knowledge, you get so much more than the content. The organisation thrives because of the highly inspirational, motivational and entertaining speakers that they engage and it is just as much about the way in which the ideas are presented as the what of the ideas.

Daryl was just as amazing in this respect as Tony who had been before him. Half stand-up comedian, half philosopher, he had an amazing way of relating to every single young person in the audience.

Below is a summary of the what, with an invitation that anyone reading gets along to a TOK session whenever they possibly can.

Daryl started by talking about his own background and education:

school, physics at St. Andrews and then a masters in theoretical physics.

He then spoke of how he had been inspired to work for TOK by 2 things: 1. a memory of witnessing an amazing TOK workshop as a school pupil; and 2. a TED talk based on the idea that you can only really be content in life if you do a job that helps others.

These 2 factors led him to decide that his vocation should involve helping young learners to be the best that they can be.

He noted that it can be hard for young people if they don’t have an idea of what they want to be in the future (approx only half of our S4s surveyed in the room indicated that they had a clear idea.)

However, he stated that the workshop was about giving everyone the knowledge and techniques in order to be able to overcome the challenges and hurdles that might arise along the path to a successful future.


He began by talking about brain science and outlined ideas on left and right brain, brain connections and the need to master skills through practice. A few practical games like “do as I say, not as I do” and rub tummy/pat head showed everyone the importance of practice and repetition in learning. Daryl elaborated on this and talked about the importance of connections in the brain that need to be repeated in order for a process to be learned and instinctive. He used a very helpful metaphor; when you learn, your brain makes connections. The more you repeat an activity, the deeper the learning. Think of walking a path through a field of grass. The first time you walk it, it is hard work. As you repeat walking the path, it gets easier. If you stop walking, the grass grows back and it gets hard again. This, he stated, is the brain science behind “practice makes perfect”.

He then went on to talk about other elements of neuroscience that related to learning, such as the need to engage both the logical left-side brain as well as the creative right-side brain when learning. Logic alone will not lead to effective learning and the study of all subjects is enhanced when we engage both sides of the brain.


“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein.


Daryl spoke about the fact that when we are children we engage imagination all the time as we learn but that, as we grow up, we tend to discourage and avoid play; however if we are to learn effectively, we need to break this cycle and re-engage the imagination. Songs to learn the alphabet, rhymes to help with the compass points (never eat shredded wheat) all helped us as children and can help us still. The irony of education is that we spend years teaching young children to walk and talk and then formal schooling often seems to be about getting children to sit down and shut up!

Daryl then engaged the group in an imaginative story telling task that enabled them to memorise 10 items on the board and the results were astounding! The key elements were use of imagination, repetition, visualisation and exaggeration.

Whilst the technique may not suit everyone, there will be a technique that DOES and the key is finding the right one for you.

The brain is a truly extraordinary thing from the moment you are born until the moment you die and you need to find ways to make the most of it for you.

Daryl then went on to talk about the fact that sometimes, young people have difficulty with expressing what they know, even though the information and ideas are in there somewhere. He referenced the work of Dr Paul McLean and the Triune Brain ( and explained why it is crucial for us to be creative, happy and relaxed if we are to learn well. This had links with the S3 and S2 workshops on Mindset and the Chimp Brain and looked at the idea that stress, reptilian fight or flight responses and the release of cortisol are all detrimental to learning.


Daryl went on the highlight the fact that being calm and happy comes from being well-prepared ad organised in our study (at which point Mrs Carter was punching the air as this has been THE key S4 message this year ….Eating Elephants included).

He then talked about some more advanced psychological theory about the need to ensure that learning is embedded in the deeper part of our being if it to be sustained. He referenced ideas about conscious, subconscious and unconscious learning and the way in which psychophysical influences and subconscious impulses can all affect our ability to learn.

The last part of the session, focused on the idea that we can talk ourselves in and out of being able to learn (again linking with the S3 workshop on Mindset). If you tell yourself negative things, there is evidence that you are more likely to fail as the negative messages filter through to your subconscious. Daryl noted that Scotland has a particular issue with negative self-talk and its consequences on confidence; in a 2088 Guardian survey found Scotland placed 24th out of 25 European countries in terms of self-confidence rating, above Bosnia and below Northern Ireland!


The key message here? We need to tell ourselves that we can succeed.

“I like school. I can do it. I will enjoy today at school with my friends”.

If you do not set yourself up to achieve your potential, you probably won’t. You need to decide what you want and go for it.

If someone asks you “how are you?” (as they do about 47 times each day!), try answering “fantastic”. The more you say it, the more you will feel it.

Positive words, positive thoughts, positive actions; the key elements to being the best version of you.

Huge thanks to Daryl and Tree of Knowledge for the inspiration.

More top tips can be found at the Study Ninja app:

Thinking of Into Headship?⤴


I wrote the following for the latest edition of our Authority Education Bulletin.

I found the experience of doing Into Headship absolutely fantastic. As an aspiring Head Teacher, it provided me with the opportunity to learn about and reflect on the elements that are essential to that role; defining the purpose of education, developing and sharing a vision, working with others to implement that vision and ensuring that every learner in your school has the best possible experience of education and achieves the best possible outcomes.
The reading on the course was skilfully selected by our HIE tutor Morag Redford to give us exposure to a wide of leadership and pedagogical theory. I particularly enjoyed reading the work of Brent Davies; for me, the ideas he expresses about authentic and moral leadership and about Head Teachers being community leaders are central to the type of leader I want to be.

The project element of the course was an opportunity to lead a strategic development in an area where improvement was needed and I was extremely fortunate to work with a group which developed the authority education strategy on Looked After Children. The work was both challenging and hugely rewarding but most importantly for me, had real impact.

The course gave us the chance to network with other course participants both within Argyll and Bute and in other parts of Scotland; online peer support was a key part of the experience and I hugely valued having others at the end of an email when things got difficult!

It was a huge juggling act to get everything done in the time available to me after doing my day job and anyone taking on Into Headship needs to be aware of this. However, leading a school certainly involves this type of juggling and so the course provides good practice!

Next steps? The course has inspired me and I am very keen to run a school one day. But for me, it is important that the timing and school are right; I am committed to living in Argyll and balancing the various parts of my life.
So for now, I am using everything I have learnt on the course to inform my practice as a Depute; I hope that this is having a positive impact on the learners in my school.

I am very grateful to Argyll and Bute Education for giving me the opportunity to take Into Headship.

The end of a momentous few months⤴



This week I gave an end of term assembly to my S4s.
In it, I recapped key messages from my assemblies over the past year and reflected on the journey we have made together.
Back in June, the key messages were:


Then in August, the messages were:

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And in October, we talked about:

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In December, they got a lovely colour planner to stick on the fridge:

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And now, we only have this remaining:

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Also, in December’s whole school assembly, we spoke about how EVERYONE has it in them to be amazing:
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And now, in March, we have significant evidence of how amazing the pupils in S4 are:

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I then referred to the key messages of the incredible Tree of Knowledge workshops which the pupils attended this week:

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These pupils are truly amazing and have it in their grasp to achieve anything.
I wish them every success.














Tree of Knowledge⤴


This is the second of two posts about a recent visit to our school by Tony from Tree of Knowledge. The first post is over on my other blogging platform:

I wrote the notes below for staff at my school in our weekly bulletin.

Friday thoughts
As you know, I was incredibly privileged to be able to sit in on the workshops with Tree of Knowledge last week.
As I said last week, I thought that it would be useful for you to know the key messages as I would like to see us re-inforcing them. Inputs from external providers only really have impact when they are integrated in the work of a school. I think that there is a real power in being able to make connections between the different learning experiences that pupils have.

In this session, Tony talked about Mindset and drew on the ideas of Carol Dweck.
More information can be found here:

He talked about our zones; our comfort zone where we are happy and relaxed. It is a great place to be but if we only stay there we will get bored. Our stretch zone lies outside of this which is where we still feel able to do things but are pushing ourselves to the limit of our ability.
Then we have the panic zone where we are unable to do the things we need to do because we have not got the time or capacity to do it.
He exemplified:
• We are in comfort zone when we have an essay due in 6 weeks
• We are in stretch zone when we are pushing ourselves do get an essay done for next week.
• We are in panic zone when the essay is due tomorrow and we have done nothing.

He explained that, if we start early and plan properly, our comfort and stretch zones increase so we can achieve more and we have less panic.
He used Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example.
Arnie was a weakling and bullied at school and decided to become a bodybuilder; he pushed himself to become world champion. He moved out of his comfort zone into his stretch zone but this then became comfort. He decided to go into acting. He was never a great actor but he specialised in certain roles and pushed himself to become one of the highest paid actors in the world. This then became comfort so he pushed himself to go into politics and become the governor of California. He is an excellent example of a self-motivated self-starter who pushed himself to keep achieving more.
Carol Dweck has done 30 years of research into Mindset and has identified 2 types of Minds – Fixed and Growth.
Tony asked three questions and asked pupils whether their instinctive answer would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
• Do you believe successful people are born that way?
• Do you believe that you can only ever improve slightly?
• Is it ok to cheat to get things?
He said that if your answer is “yes” to the questions then you have a FIXED Mindset. If the answer is “no”, you have a GROWTH Mindset.
Dweck’s research has shown that most successful people have a Growth Mindset.
We may often have a fixed mindset when faced with a new challenge
If we say “that is impossible” we have an excuse not to try. With growth mindset, we embrace the challenge. We find the best way possible to solve a problem.
If some people are asked to try, they will say “Why? It’s pointless”. We tend to want instant gratification. However, real success comes from embracing challenges, persisting, putting in effort over time and succeeding.
We need to be able to solve problems as humans or we are part of the problem.
Effort is the distance between where I am now and where I want to get to.
Some people don’t put in effort and blame others when they don’t get where they want to get to (school, parents, friends.) This is a blame culture.
Tony explained that it can be frustrating when people succeed around us. At school, he was the best (and only) guitar player. He went on a summer camp and met Matthew MacAllister who was AMAZING and so he just gave up. Matthew maybe had more natural talent BUT he also put in 5 hours of practice a day.
Tony set the pupils a challenge:
If you meet a new challenge, give it a genuine try. See it as a pathway.
We all have different ideas of success – money/house/job.
See effort as a pathway to success but do not get jealous of others.
Admit how you are right now but admit that you can change it. The minute you say “this is nonsense and not for me”, you are giving in to a fixed mindset.
Matthew Brailsford helped turn around British cycling and he did it one step at a time – small incremental changes, eg:
• All in the team started careful handwashing which reduce illness and time off.
• The inside of bike vans were painted white to show dirt – they could be kept cleaner and less bike repairs were needed.
• All the team members got new pillows so they slept better and performed better.
1% at a time will lead to 100% improvement.
What will your 1% be? Less screen time? 5 minutes of study.
Just decide to start.
Tony was so inspiring and the pupils were incredibly positive in their feedback.



Four countries.⤴


I am in a hotel for a conference. I am going to be discussing the future of Britain’s education with some incredible minds.
I am scared and my chimps are going mad.
I am on the exercise bike in the gym trying to get focussed.

In order to focus, I am going to remind myself of what I believe about education.

You should only teach if you care that every child in your school is loveable and can succeed. If you only want to teach middle or upper class children, avoid comprehensive education.
Teachers have the power to impact on the lives of children and therefore on the future. This is a massive privilege and responsibility.
This should be made clear in initial teacher training.

Teachers are very, very, very important and needed to be treated as such.

Parents and carers are very, very, very important and need to be treated as such. All of them.

Teachers who are not doing a good enough job in helping every child to learn need to be supported to do a good enough job.

Parents who are not doing a good enough job in helping every child to learn need to be supported to do a good enough job. Schools can play a big part here.

School leaders need to be prepared to work very hard, talk the talk and walk the walk. The 35 hour week does not apply.

Every teacher needs to be highly informed about the purpose of education, child development, attachment, adverse childhood experiences, mindset and nurture.

The job of a school is to help a child learn about the world and to help them find their place in the world.

The purpose of secondary education is to help children become adults who make the most of life and make sensible choices. The teenage years are incredibly complex and exciting and we need to understand the related psychological and neuroscientific fields.

We all need to keep learning and reflecting. Self awareness in teachers is crucial.

Political decisions about education should never be made by people who have not been successful teachers or educators.

Decisions about education must be based on evidence based practice and never a knee-jerk.

A long-term view is crucial.

Inclusion is not one experience…or maybe not even one environment …fits all.

Assessment. Hmmmm. We must measure what we value and not value what we can measure. Some important things cannot be assessed easily.

The community should be at the heart of a school and the school should be at the heart of a community. Governance structures should be arranged accordingly.

Education should be at the heart of society and society should be at the heart of education.
Soundbites? Maybe. Nothing much new. But what I believe.
What do I know…?

Keeping going…⤴


A year ago I wrote this.

I am copying it in full at the bottom of this post because it is quite heavily referenced below.

It is one of my most read pieces of writing and was reblogged by the Mighty. It got a huge number of shares and comments on various platforms. Almost all were positive and the post seemed to strike a chord with many. The one that touched the deepest nerve was “wow, you slept til 5.15! Lucky you!” That was, for me, what I think is referred to as a trigger and I had to fight hard not to rise to it.

Today, a year on and I am in a similar but very different place.
Some of the actual stuff in the list has shifted. I have changed job, partly because of things related to number 1 and I am back in school, now as Head of Secondary. I am not putting myself in for the music festival this year. But much of the “stuff” and pressures are the same. The workload at school is immense. We have huge staffing pressures, massive issues with pupil mental health and further cuts and changes ahead. The personal financial pressures have not eased and neither has my husband’s situation.
The words “what else can go wrong?” have been a mantra but so have the words “we’ve survived before!”.
But the significant change has come in my outlook.
I have worked really hard to keep the mind tricks at bay. I have used writing as a way to keep my feelings in check. I have written an awful lot!
I am much better at not catastrophizing, (although at 8am when Steve informed me that his back had gone, there was a momentary relapse).
Over the summer I read a number of key books and more recently I have read “Frazzled” by Ruby Wax.
In the autumn, I did an online mindfulness course through FutureLearn. I have learnt amazing stuff about the brain and the relationship between body and soul.
I have engaged with educators who have helped me to realise that authenticity and a focus on wellbeing are not separate from raising attainment and closing gaps. Things like this keep me going:

I have found a tribe of likeminded educational souls and I feel supported, even though many of the tribe members are not in close geographical proximity.

I still fight the chimps, the demons, the internal voices that try and win from time to time. But on the whole I am winning. And you can too. It takes a bit of work but it is worth it. For those around you. For those you teach who will know when you are being authentic and will trust and learn from you because of it. But above all, for you.


I usually sleep well but today I have woken at 5.15 and can’t sleep.
There is fierce raging activity in my head that consists of a series of worries.
1. Something happened at work last week and I am worried that, although I know that I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.
2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues and I fear that they won’t like me and that they will realise I don’t know what I am talking about.
3. When the meeting is over I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.
4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week and feel as per 2 but also haven’t planned the training yet.
5. I have entered a singing competition in 3 weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.
6. My daughter is still unwell after flu and has stopped eating properly.
7. My husband may have to stop working which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.
8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today but have arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight but am now worried that I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.
I could actually continue with more but 8 is probably enough.
What to do? Give up? Ring the doctor? On paper, these things may seem trivial, over dramatic, irrational. But they feel very real.
But I can manage them. Because I have before. A useful exercise that I discovered before Christmas is to write them down, name them as feelings/ worries and then force myself to counteract them with what I KNOW.
1. I have lots of evidence of what really happened and I need to hold to that.
2. It is not about them liking me. I have done huge research, I have a plan, agenda and a clear vision which is to work with the team to improve outcomes for children.
3. I will write detailed notes in the meeting.
4. I have PowerPoints I can adapt and experience and ideas. It is not about me but about what my audience needs.
5. I can record the songs and listen to them as I drive.
6. I can’t control her or her eating.
7. We only a have to get through 2 years and things will improve. I do need a new cleaner, though.
8.  University days. Frequent nights of 4 hours sleep. Baby days- ditto. Did I die? Nope.
Our minds can be devious and feelings and worries play tricks. But by getting them out, ordering them and challenging them, we can get through them.
Solution focus; we have within us the skills and experience to solve problems and face challenges.
Happy Thursday.

On things that don’t change.⤴


Today I did not march.
I took my beautiful, clever, inspiring girl and her equally fabulous friend to see ‘The Woman in Black’ in Glasgow.
And I realised that things will be ok.

I first saw the play in London in 1999 as part of a school drama trip from Huntingdon. As a drama teacher, it was a surprise to others that I had not seen it before. It was the absolute bread and butter of the GCSE live performance review paper and as soon as I saw it, I knew why. It exemplifies a huge range of dramatic conventions and techniques as well as a cornucopia of technical devices that one rarely experiences within one performance. It reminds us so powerfully of what drama and imagination can do: to create a horse and trap from a basket; to produce Spider the dog out of thin air and to tell a complex story through the incredible skill of just two performers and the collective imagination of the audience members; to force us to feel intensely and to venture into the lives of others. And teenagers love it.

I saw it again a few years later in Newcastle and so today was my third time. It was a joy to watch again and this time to share it with my girl.

Today I took some new messages from this classic: messages that I had not picked up previously about attachment and separation, looked after children and trauma, mental health and the need to tell our stories. And about the fact that there are some things beyond our comprehension and control.

But above all I was reassured by the fact that it is still the same, still so powerful, still such a timeless testimony to the power of drama and culture to transport us to another place where we can reflect on human nature and experience.
Politicians will come and go. Political decisions will impact on us for a while and then things will move on. But universal, archetypal, cultural experiences will continue to unite and enlighten us.
On the way home she asked whether we can see a Shakespeare.
Certainly, my lovely. Because 400 years on and we will still have more in common with that master of language and imagination than we do with the temporary rhetoricians and charlatans of today.




Today I got in  my car at 7.15 and began to drive.

I felt tired, emotional, hopeless and not in the mood.

As if it knew, radio 1 sent me three songs:


And as I listened, my mood changed.

When I got to the Inter-authority session for Middle Leaders with Argyll and Bute and East Dunbartonshire (organised by the amazing Sandra Clarke and George Cooper) things only got better.

What a day! Inspiration, connection, validation and the chance to listen to some of the greatest speakers in Scottish Education.

My notes are below. As always in my blogs, I may have mis-understood or misquoted, so please check out the speakers online / via their writing. But I thought that the notes may be useful to those who could not make it (Aileen).

But the three main things for me:

David Cameron – Consonance is key. You only do something well if you believe in it.

Mark Priestley – CfE is a good idea badly managed. We need to consider not what subjects we teach but what knowledge we open up.

Pete Clarke – We need to trust our inner voice – in all the trials and tribulations of life, the one person who has been there is you.

Thanks, all for restoring my faith. I will keep on keeping on.



Middle leaders Inter authority development day

Sandra Clarke intro:

Purpose of education

What are we trying to do?

Are we spending time on right things?


Leading change

Taking step back to breathe and think

The David Cameron – focus on middle leadership as a driver for school improvement and reflections on Scottish Education currently.

Spoke about Chris Kilkenny. Was looked after.

Still makes mistakes

Was mod apprentice

Disappeared for 5 months then he turned up in Dundee and said he was going to do what D does – talk shite for a living!

Reality – teaching is rubbish!

As a depute, David never got more than four things done in his to do list.

Teachers are torn  between pedagoo (progressive innovators) and taliban (no changers)

Some progressives, some traditionalists in schools….

Blizzard of priorities:





Teenage pregnancy


Etc etc

No staffing, no supply, budget cuts

If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority

Reality… Like being pecked to death by hens. Everyone can have a go at teachers. Parents. Pupils. Politicians.

AND there is contradiction and confusion in the current initiatives

Tyranny of the immediate dominates …you do not plan on a Sunday pm for a playground head injury, staff absence….

How do we close gap with norm referenced assessment. (Hattie)

Some pupils MUST fail

Language  is wrong… Not about closing gap

Will only close gap if we use different assessment

CfE was about giving pupils skills for the workplace YET we still obsess over exams, literacy, numeracy scores!!!

Governance review…..very muddled

We talk about clarity

Bill Maxwell statement is full of platitudes. Basically says chill and don’t worry…THEN they put out new benchmarks!!

Cult of perfection….. “We can all do better…”

Need to stop pratting on about good practice or best practice.

Need sustainable practice, not best or good practice

We need to bring clarity, coherence and confidence 

Who has raised attainment on a windy day??

Who is outstanding on first day of term??

Need to be realistic!

Work smarter!! Really?!?!

When someone tells you this, or “do more with less”, it is condescending and patronising

Need reality, not patronising:

Reasons to be cheerful part 3:

We do have real basis for progress

We do have reduced version of BTC docs except 4(skills) and that could easily be summarised

David a DSM (governance) review 4 yrs ago!! D chaired it!! Why did SG not use it?!?

Governance should be based on appropriateness.

Had excellence groups- eg in skills

Near clear learning pathways and criteria that have been internalised.

Standards must be exemplified and clear. Not about 100s of benchmarks.

Teachers need to sit down together. Look at work. Agree the standard.

Whatever happened to new community schools? 

LJC is one!

Community centre

You cannot solve the problems but you can work with the community. Integrated approach

NCSs – aim was to work with parents, SW, partners in an integrated way.

GIRFEC – we have stopped talking about it 

But we need it

Chris Kilkenny- mum was  addict and he never gave a damn about jolly phonics…could not be assessed by benchmarks….

He just wanted someone to look out for him and ask him on a daily basis how he was.


Us here on Saturday

Teachmeet pedagoo tapestry visible learning


The response?



Work harder

Worry more

Neglect other things/people



Need to agree what matters in terms of making a difference for ch and YP and their outcomes

Need to agree what the breakable plates are.. What we can do less of and what stops

Very good thing to do with staff…get big bit of paper and do a graph 


Time and effort


Write on post its and put them on the graph…eg tasks around marking

Good cpd… Gives pic of workload and shows where breakable plates are…

3 key points that leaders need to consider when implementing change:

Manageability…. Think through to point of delivery in classroom.

Worst when…. We did CfE for 7 to 8 yrs and only then thought about reality and terror of new exams.

Til rubber hit road, we did not see workload crisis

Keir Bloomer talked the talk but never had to do it in the classroom.

Talk to staff in language  of manageability.

Coherence is key- 

We are always painting on wet paint

Cooperative learning coat not dry then Visible learning coat… Before the first coat had dried


You only do something well if you believe in it.

Otherwise you just do it for show/ when inspected

5 to 14 doc – diagram on assessment very useful. Why did we let it go?

Decide what to teach


See what has been learnt

Review and reflect 

From Hattie – what makes a difference?

What people working in the school do. Classroom management – balancing the needs, attributes and abilities of learners with what needs to be learnt

2 areas where we can raise attainment:

Engage those who are not engaged;

Try making yp better at last or unexpected questions in tests…. Build their resilience to tackle the challenging/unexpected question.

Culture and consistency are key… Same key messages across  school

Forth Valley college is good at this

Battle for school improvement is not about excellence. It is a battle for better typicality and consistent practice 

Raise level of teachers to level of most successful teachers in your school

Not “what works” but “what works here”

And where is the love….Will I Am?

Unit of improvement is not the school it is the  individual teacher

Chris K- what would have made difference is someone asking every day how I am

Working at Kibble with 30 kids one day. David said to them… “when kids don’t understand the teacher, they disrupt. They are not out of control, they are controlling the situation.”

One kid said “how did you know?”

Look at Education Endowment Fund toolkit to see what really makes a difference.

David has got an electronic doc based on this.

If we don’t have time, we don’t have time to waste.

David’s ladder for self eval:

Do self eval then ask:

  1. What will you do to improve practice?
  2. What help or support do you need….we is key to transformation?
  3. What outcomes will you expect your young people to achieve as a result of the improvement? Need realistic and ambitious targets….
  4. What evidence will you look at to determine if the improvement has been made.

Time is key- think really carefully about lesson obs and learning walks.

Coach, teach rather than observing 

Don’t start with the data as it is based on the last cohort!! Partic crucial in a small school! 

Have an improvement plan for every member of staff in every place.

We need to make a change in hard times…..

Can email presentation 

Jay Helbert (SCEL Development Leadership) – Pedagogical and transformational leadership

Transformational leaderships

How do middle leaders achieve change without holding ultimate power?

Transactional leadership. About a resource you give or take away. Was a business model popular in 80s but does not really work in ed….. (Or in business either)Can’t give bonuses, sack teachers.

Transformational leadership… You sell a vision or create one with people and then you invest in the people with you.

Power vs influence

Raven 2008

6 bases of power

Legitimate – vested in you by job or title

Reward- ability to offer a reward to compel someone

Expert- if you are a successful teacher you are more likely to have power over others

Referent – how likeable or charismatic you are or how much you have something in common

Coercive- wield a threat over someone 


What bases of power are most useful to middle leaders?


Know the people and still teach

Johanna – referent is key…. The model and approach that you want from your staff must be modelled by you as HT and modelled by your middle leaders…..

Transformational leadership never comes from reward or coercion.

Jay knows there are cynics in education but there is always some element of commonality

Viviane Robinson from NZ ranked leadership actions in the same way that Hattie ranked T and L actions

Sees pedagogical leadership as key.

At the heart there must be something better for the children.

Robinson et al

Pedagogic leadership is about:

Establishing an academic mission

Providing feedback on t and l

Promoting prof leadership.

It is not about transformational OR ped leadership but about both.

If you have blockers….

Find the people who are like you 

Peter Clarke (Lecturer in Social Sciences, Open University) – Using an Emotional Learning Model to Support Leadership

Talking about the work of Prof Colin Beard on experiential learning.

Teachers, leaders and facilitators are architects of experiences for learning.

Learning from experience is life


Kenyan safari

Looking for a giraffe…..

Can see one at west midland safari park

Must be ready to lead, experience and learn wherever we can

Opps and abilities of others are varied and different.

Colin worked in prison therapeutic environment


Had been contract killer for Liverpool gangs. Had come to prison and learnt to read and write….was now doing sociology degree.

Colin was teaching about crime but became the learner

Made most of the experience as it was. This was experiential learning.

Experiential learning is where 2 worlds collide – our inner private world and the outer world.

About using all senses

Experiential learning 

Learning to belong, act, observe, feel, think and be in outer world

Purpose of education

Leaders of learning need to help reframe  fearful experiences into pleasure

Eg exams, giving presentations, going to Alton towers


Achieving gives a sense of success, getting, knowing, doing

Affiliation gives us a sense of belonging

Communication skills when giving feedback as a leader are key

The compassionate mind – Paul Gilbert

In life we give feedback in a compassionate way….

In education we need to give critical feedback, evaluate, make judgement 

We do not need to leave compassion behind.

OFSTED/HMIE often will…..

When giving or receiving feedback, we may adopt one of three who states:




Need to trust inner voice – in all trials and tribulations of life, the one person who has been there is you.

You are the architect of experience for learning. 

If you use this material, reference Colin.

Prof Mark Priestley (Stirling University) – Developing an Effective Curriculum – a Scottish Perspective

CfE wanted teachers at centre of curriculum development

“There is no curriculum development without teacher development”

Laurence Stenhouse

“Curriculum development is a lost art.”

Michael Apple

Need policy that allows teachers to develop curriculum and not be in a system that disables them.

We have a curriculum that does not fit.

CfE is a good idea badly managed. 

Change is not necessary a good thing. Need fit for practice ideas.

Good practice – good for society, philosophical concept. 

Curriculum dev is a process not a product.

Ongoing, by local experts and building on what works.

Mark’s bugbear is delivery- education is about development and growth.

Need to think about big picture, not  minutiae 

Curriculum policy is a framework that includes:

Content, assessment, provision (eg timetabling), pedagogy

Only 1 sec school in Scotland  really changed timetable for CfE  to 20 1.5 hour periods to allow field trips etc

There are curricular strata

Supra transnational

Macro national

Meso LEA, policy

Micro school level

Classroom level 

There should be movement and interaction across levels.

Classroom and teachers should influence upwards.

Wales has pioneer schools that help influence policy.

Implementation gap

The rhetoric of policy in Scotland has not filtered down to schools in practice.

Ed Scot has tried again and again to re-interpret docs!

Need to go back to basics of CfE

3 poss starting points for curriculum development

Content led?

Outcomes led?

Process led?

Content driven can be about transmission rather than understanding.

Content of CfE is not very different to content of English curriculum in 1984….

Outcomes driven is about assessing pupil progress and making schools and teachers accountable.

5-14 was assessment driven. New benchmarks seem to be moving back to that.

Becomes about auditing outcomes  and tick-boxes – incremental change, not meaningful change 

Increase in assessments in senior phase… surprise there is an increase in mental health issues.


Process curriculum – about concern with nature of child and their place in society.

Attributes and capabilities of an educated person are defined.

Pros- teachers can select content and methods, start with where pupils are, be flexible and make links

Encourages children to reflect on the learning from their early experiences and challenge/build on this.


Requires high level of teacher skill

Can CfE allow process driven curric?


At macro level

Have purposes and principles and policy

At meso level

Need clearer specification of processes and support

At micro level

Need further teacher dev

Purpose of schools?

Intellectual dev?

Instrumental goals?

Learning for sake of learning?

What are the big ideas of CfE?


The sabre tooth curriculum- developed in relation to Latin eduction in  1930s USA

3 subjects in curriculum:

Grabbing fish from shallow ponds

Clubbing woolly horses who came to drink

Scaring away sabre tooth tigers

Things changed

Waters got muddy

Horses replaced by antelope

Tigers replaced by bears

Progressive Stone Age educators said new skills were needed.

What is knowledge?

Select content that is:



Promotes higher order thinking

Powerful knowledge (Young 2007)

Need it to be fit for purpose and embraced big ideas of curriculum.

It is a false dichotomy to say that CfE is about skills and not knowledge.

Is knowledge:

Something out there to be acquired?

Something to be constructed by individuals through transactions with world?

Has implications for how we teach.

Transmission teaching? Experiential learning? or a combination of both?

Need to differentiate between info, knowledge, subjects….


Need to look at transitions between  primary and secondary….maybe have more integrated science, soc subjects…

See John Dewey ‘Experience in Education’ – very powerful on why we do what we do in schools…and why maybe we should not.

Eisner 1992 also asks about the why of schools. Very important. 

Need a range of methods. Those who created cooperative learning say they would not want to see JUST that in school.

barriers to transformational change:




Cannot do everything in school. Authority and govt need to be involved.

Start with question of purpose

Then think about the how

Then address the operational issues.


Julienne Pierre MacKenzie (PT Tobermory High School) and Ryan Lowe (Tobermory High School) Changing Mindset – a secondary approach.

Trio observation model

Developed in south of England Jurassic coast

Consulted with staff first

Trio obs should improve teaching and learning 

Needed a protocol

Narrative is more important than events observed

Produced trio obs protocol and aide memoire

First focus was on ways of giving feedback- from Hattie

Evidence based research papers are made available to staff to back this project up.

Asked pupils what makes a good teacher. 

Trio obs focus now is developing authentic learner voice….

need to aim high and have high expectations 

Elli at Tobermory. Effective lifelong learning inventory – uni of Bristol. Some cost implication.

Each pupil does a 70 qu questionnaire.

Gives a learning profile. 

Can be redone to show change over time.

Can measure the learning over time.

Have been using this for three years in primary.

Now doing it is timetabled interdisciplinary learning periods in secondary.

Profiles are incorporated into support plans.

Pupil is responsible for own profile – pupil autonomy is being developed.

In primary the pupils have animal symbols that they can use to show where they need help

Eg unicorn = creativity

Tortoise = resilience

Older pupils have developed their own metaphors

Plan to use this for reporting and profiling (instead if skills book)

Other feeder primaries are using symbols and initial bear and elephant story, though not the whole surveys

Useful to get staff and parents to do the questionnaire

See school website for a video on this

Jay Helbert  Strategic leadership within middle leadership

Nelson’s Trafalgar:

Sometimes we mistake mission statements for strategy

Based on work of Richard Rumel on business strategy

Strategy should not include fluff or targets or just doing more of the same.

Diagnose the issue:

Seek disconfirming information

Be forensic

Avoid emotional attachment

Provide evidence for conclusions

Be aware of and compensate for biases

Cognitive biases:

Ambiguity avoidance

Backfire effect

Bandwagon effect

Bias blind spot

Choice consolidation

Confirmation Bias

Dunning Kruger effect – when people think they are great but they are not because they do not know what great is



Reciprocation bias

Similarity bias

Concise and guiding policy is needed:

Not a vision or mission statement (should not take 6 months to nail a vision!!)

Does not state where you want to go (that is your goals)

Does give guiding principals

Does leverage strengths

Does calculate risk tolerance

Has ‘Waterline’ flexibility 

When Jay introduced process for teacher leadership in Ardrishaig he used already existing processes and built on them…

Look at Ebsco research papers via GTCS. 

Plenary from George Cooper

David- Provocative

Workshops -Quality 

Mark – Perspective

Jay – Strategy

Entertaining and Enjoyable



Final #Wellbeing Reflection⤴


A final wellbeing reflection.

Back at the end of last year I came across the #teacher5aday wellbeing movement.
Reading what had been happening over the previous 12 months amongst teachers with a commitment to wellbeing inspired me and I wrote a blog. The whole piece can be found here
At the end of it I made three vows. I have written reflections regularly since such as this one from October:
At the end of the year, it is time for a final reflection.

Vow 1. To myself. It is time I sorted this out once and for all. I love the Facebook ‘memories’ function where you can see where you were and what you were doing on this day in previous years. But I am concerned that I have been saying the same things about needing to slow down and look after better myself for 10 years. Now is the time. My family needs more of me and I need to accept that excuses won’t do any more. Only I can do this but but I am hoping for a bit of help from @Doctob’s book ‘Inner Story’ which fortuitously came into my possession recently.

Update, a year on:
Honestly? As I said in October, I still work hard and sometimes find it hard to switch off. I am still driven and infuriating to those who love me.
I still hear my children say they don’t see enough of me.
But I do manage it all better. I did a course in mindfulness back in October and I also read Emma Woolf’s fabulous book Positively Primal, both of which have been a huge help to me. The world is never going to stop being busy and hectic but our approach to it is key: focusing on the vision, prioritising the important and taking time to savour the individual moments.

Vow 2: To education. I am doing the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course this year and intend to learn all I can about how to be a Wellbeing-motivated educational leader.
Update, a year on:
I have finished all aspects of the course and await verification as to whether I have passed. The course was an amazing opportunity to learn about leadership and about the vision of leadership that Scotland aspires to for its future school leaders.
Are Scottish schools ready for that type of leader? I’m not sure.
I have been promoted to Acting Head of Teaching and Learning (Secondary) in my school recently and this has presented me with a amazing opportunity to take forward my ideas on developing ethos, promoting staff and pupil wellbeing and influencing the culture of our school.
On a practical level, I have a school timetable to write in the new term which will be a huge challenge for me and possibly the end of a short-lived career!

Vow 3: To Twitter. I will use this forum to engage in the debate about wellbeing and teacher ‘agency’ and to support and nurture like-minded souls. I will not beat myself up if I don’t manage to tweet or blog as often as other brilliant twitterati friends…..(as I have in the past) but I will use Twitter for all its potential….

Update, a year on:
I have come to both love and hate Twitter. I love it for its power to connect me to like-minded people and their ideas and writing. I hate it for drawing me in and making me spend more time on it than I should. I also wonder about the quality of interaction that can ever really be achieved on Twitter and the fact that what seem like genuine interest and compassion aren’t. If that sounds harsh, it is not meant to. It is just that when I went through a really hard time back in late October, Twitter barely noticed.
And why would it have?

On the other hand, I have found huge support and what has felt like more genuine connection through platforms like @staffrm and WomenEd and Pedagoo.

This will be my last #teacher5aday #wellbeing update. I will continue to #connect, #notice, #exercise, #learn and #volunteer, blog, reflect and be well. I will continue to encourage others to do so to. And I will revert to a paper sketchbook/journal as my tool of reflection, as suggested here:

Thanks so much again to
Martyn Reah and the tribe for getting me hooked.

Bye for now.