Author Archives: lenabellina

Adults working together.⤴


Last night I spoke to parents and carers at my school.

The text of what I said is here (more or less) and there is a video below:


Parental engagement event 28.3.17
Good evening and welcome, to everyone who has come here tonight…and also to those who may be watching after the event on video at a later date.

This evening is in three parts.
The first involves me talking and explaining some things about our school which I hope you will find interesting.
The second involves us having refreshments, a chat and a raffle…. but that bit only applies to those of us in the room.
And the third involves us watching a very powerful film with a strong message for our community. Fortunately viewers at home can see that part too as it is available online and the link will be shared.
My name is Lena Carter and I am the Head of Secondary Teaching and Learning here at Lochgilphead High School.
I think that most of you know me and, with the exception of some of the pupils in S6 who I never really got to teach or work with, I know your children well. I was stage head last year for the current S5 and I am stage head now for S3 and S4. Being Stage Head means that I have the overview of the year group, monitor their progress and help them through the key parts of the year. I also teach drama to all pupils in S1 and S2 and currently I also teach some French to S3. In my spare time, I am also directing this year’s school play.
My two children attend the High School.

I have been teaching for the best part of 25 years. I started my career in the south in London and Cambridgeshire, then moved north to Cumbria and the Outer Hebrides before coming to Argyll in 2013.

So, what does it actually mean to be head of Teaching and Learning and why did I want to take on the job?
First and foremost, it is about ensuring that what happens in our classrooms and our school enables your children to get the most out of their school experience as they possibly can and to be able to make a positive contribution to the world they live in.

The curriculum is the word that we use to describe the totality of learning experiences that our pupils experience; it is about what we teach, when we teach it and how we teach it or, in other words, what pupils learn, when they learn it and how they learn it. It is my job to work with staff to ensure that all of our pupils have curriculum opportunities through which they develop skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work and grow into the best possible versions of themselves.
Within this, it is not possible to have a one-size fits all approach; each one of our pupils is an individual on a personal pathway that needs to be right for them; we may have future tree-surgeons and brain-surgeons in the room, future musicians and future magicians and so there is no one learning journey that suits all. . Success for one pupil may look very different to success for another.

As a school we are judged partly through the assessments and exam results that we produce and there is no denying that these are important. Formal qualifications are the currency that allow our pupils to compete in a world where opportunities are sometimes hard to come by and it is for that reason that we want all of our pupils to leave school with the absolute best results that they can.
But being the absolute best is about more than just qualifications.
In our Learn to Learn and PSE classes and our assemblies, we focus a great deal on the idea of being reflective learners and of using all situations, both in and out of school, as learning opportunities. The successes and mistakes. The highs and the lows.
Our pupils know that being the best is also about being helpful, being loving, being understanding and being a good human being.
So, my job is hugely exciting and I consider myself very lucky to have it.
This year we have undertaken a major review of our curriculum to ensure that we build on the strengths of our existing curriculum and make improvements where they are need.
The pupils have played a big part in this and we have used number of opportunities to ask them for their ideas on how to make things better:
In the autumn, all pupils in S3 and S4 completed anonymous surveys relating to their experiences of school and learning. The responses were incredibly helpful to us and have already resulted in improvement activities; for example, a number of pupils told us that they would like more personal individualised feedback on their work and so we have shared this with staff and asked them to make it happen.
Over the last 2 terms, all pupils in S1 have been interviewed about their experience of school and their feedback has also helped us to address the issues important to them; in particular, they have helped us to address issues around ensuring that respect is at the heart of all interactions in school.
We have also established a pupil voice group this year where pupil representatives have met face to face with a group of staff to discuss the ways in which pupils’ voices can be made even stronger moving forward. They have made proposals for a new pupil council group which will be established next year.

They have told us about how they want us to support them with their mental health.
They have told us that they want better information and support around equalities and LGBT issues.
And they have also made strong representation that we should have some mechanism for pupils having an opportunity to meet with the same key adult every day, perhaps through a tutor group registration system. We are currently exploring ways to implement this in the new timetable.
All S2 pupils and their parents have been involved in and anonymous consultation around how we tackle bullying behaviours in school and the responses to that are being collated and reviewed to help us make sure that find the right ways to help pupils have positive relationships with others.
Finally this year, we have introduced an Options system that has made the pupils the starting point; rather than asking them to fit into a pre-determined set of option blocks, we have tried to create the option blocks around what they need and want. Early indications show that this will lead to increased pupil satisfaction and more pupil needs being met. The final conversations and decisions about options will take place after Easter.

And why then, did I want to talk to you tonight?
I am now going to say something controversial.

Parents are the main educators in their children’s lives.
As such, it is vital to measure and understand parents’ and families’ influence on children’s outcomes. A range of international evidence has shown that children and young people who have at least one parent or carer engaged in their education achieve better exam results, higher retention rates and smoother transitions between nursery, primary and secondary schools. They are also more likely to:
• attend school more regularly;
• have better social skills;
• have improved behaviour;
• adapt better to school and engage more in school work;
• have better networks of supportive relationships;
• have a better sense of personal competence; and
• be more likely to go on to further or higher education.

Source: Scottish Government

This is not about schools trying to shirk responsibility. It is not about us saying that our role in your child’s education is not crucial because it is. But it is saying that we have to work together and ensure that we communicate clearly, effectively and efficiently with one another if we are to do the best for our children.
And this is something we know we need to do better at.
We have worked really hard on improving communication in here over the last year.
We have asked you all to sign up for our messenger communications system which allows us to send texts, emails and letters to you.
If at all possible, we have encouraged you to download the Xpressions app to your device as this enables us to send you short messages for free which, in times of tights budgets, is really helpful.
If you don’t have the app, we send you text messages with key information.
If we need to send you a letter, we now do this via email (which again saves money and the environment), or for the approximately 32 parents and carers amongst you who do not have email, we still post out letters.
We have hugely improved our website and update it regularly with key information, as well as a weekly news blog from Ann Devine, our Campus Principal.
We have a Joint Campus Facebook page which has proven hugely popular amongst many of you.
But communication is a two way process. It is not just about us telling you things.
The next part of our task is to work out how we can get more of you communicating with us in a way that you feel comfortable with and in a way that will help our children.
Because, in the same way as we have listened to our pupils over the last year to move things forward, we need to find ways of making sure that you are heard too.

Of course it is fantastic and hugely encouraging to see so many of you here tonight. Thank you.
We also have a hugely supportive but small parent council who meet with us regularly to help hear your voices.

But to those of you who are not here tonight, I want to ask you why?
Is that you had a prior engagement?
Is that you felt intimidated about coming into school?
Is it that school was a bad experience for you?
Is it that you don’t feel heard by the school and that there’s no point in trying?
Is that you don’t feel that you are the sort of parent who come to things like this?
Is it that you were worried you might have to speak to people, or be judged?
Is it that you are happy with the way things are?
Is that you would rather watch the video?

I can’t answer for those who aren’t here but what I do know is that we need the answers to some of these questions

In school, we do the absolute best we can with the resources we have to support our children. We don’t always get it 100% and we can only know that we aren’t if you tell us.
But we also need to know that they experience a life that is fair, safe and full of opportunity when they are outside of our environment.
We know that this will not be the case if they are out drinking alcohol from a young age.
We know that this will not be the case if they are taking drugs.
We know that this will not be the case if they are engaging in inappropriate sexual activity.
We know that this will not be the case if they do not have clear boundaries.
If we as adults and parents cannot define the safe boundaries for our children then we need to be honest about it and ask for help.
There is no shame in this. We end up in this parenting role with very little preparation and if we are lucky enough to have had good role models in our families, then we probably do a good enough job.
But if we are struggling to get it right, we need to be honest and say so.
As a school leader, I don’t want you as parents to feel that you need to struggle alone. We need you to be honest and work with us so that we can create the environment both in and out of school that will allow our children to thrive.
I have heard parents say that they don’t want to share ‘personal’ information with school and that stuff that happens at home is none of school’s business. But everything I have learnt in my twenty plus years of teaching shows that pupils achieve best when information is shared that may help us to support children.
If your family dog has died and your child comes into school upset, it helps us to care for them if we know.
If you are under pressure because of a sick relative and family life is difficult, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
If you can’t afford school shoes until after payday, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
If you struggle to read the letters that come home about your child, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
If you struggle to get up in the morning and face the day, it helps for us to care for your child if we know.
It takes a village to raise a child. But we will only raise that child well if the adults in the village are honest, willing to work together and able to ask for help when they need it.
So, to return to what I said before.
We have to work together and ensure that we communicate clearly, effectively and efficiently with one another as adults if we are to do the best for our children.
After tonight I would like to invite all of you to take part in a short online survey that helps us to understand what you think we are doing well and how we can engage better with more of you.

The link will be sent out via Messenger and put on the school website with a copy of this presentation.
The next part of tonight relates to our ongoing work in school to tackle bullying behaviour and promote respect.
Bullying is an issue that occurs not just in schools but in wider society and we know that it often involves an inability by one person to accept difference in another.

This year we have done a huge amount of work around anti- bullying including an intensive campaign during anti-bullying week involving a range of our partner agencies, curricular work such as the study of the text ‘Wonder’ in S1 English, followed up by a cinema trip to see the film and the work in S2 drama that I previously mentioned.

What we know is that the most effective way to tackle bullying is to involve everyone in the community and to create a culture where everyone the chance to speak out when they know that something is wrong.
We know that 99% of our children know that they should speak out when unkind things happen to others. We also know that peer pressure and fear stop them from doing so. If you came to my talk about teenagers, you will know that peer massive is very real for teenagers but that they CAN resist it if they are given the right messages by adults who they trust.
Recent research into stopping bullying talks about the power of the bystander and the film that you are going to see tonight gives a clear message about this.
I Am Me tells the story of Charlie, a young man with autism living in his community.
As this week is Wold Autism week, it is a particularly important film to be showing just now
It was developed by a community group , also called I Am Me. They are an winning community charity which works in partnership with Police Scotland to raise awareness of Disability Hate Crime (recognised as one of the most under report crimes in the UK).
The project aims to raise awareness with local young people and disability groups through the power of drama and film aimed at challenging attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people. Since the launch in September 2013, a live performance was delivered to over 10,000 people, including High schools, disability groups, staff groups, the police training college and the Scottish Parliament. A softer version, designed for primary school children was delivered to around 8,000 children in Renfrewshire.
The project also has an initiative called Keep Safe. Keep Safe works in partnership with Police Scotland and a network of local businesses to create ‘Keep Safe’ places for disabled, vulnerable, and elderly people when out and about in the community. People can access these premises to seek assistance and help if they feel lost, confused, scared, in danger, or have been the victim of a crime.
Children and parents here often talk about the fact they don’t want to appears as ‘grasses’ by giving information about others who have done wrong.
I urge you, the adults, to challenge this and work with us and the police to ensure that everyone in our community is happy and safe.
I hope you enjoy the film.

The Greatest Show⤴


I have a new obsession; the film musical ‘The Greatest Showman’.

I took my children to see it last month and we all adored it. Last night we took my husband and he loved it too; we had said beforehand that he was at risk of being excluded from the family if he didn’t but luckily it all turned out ok.

The soundtrack has been in my car and head for the last month and reminded me once again of the power of music, drama and the arts to inspire, teach and enlighten.

In a month where the arts are fighting to survive in schools and society, the need for us to shout about this power is never greater:


I know that the historical accuracy of the story is highly blurred by dramatic licence. I am sure that the actual Mr P.T. Barnum was not quite the poster-boy for inclusion and the flag-bearer for vulnerable minorities that the story makes him out to be (just google him). But in this story, he is in an incredibly well-drawn character; passionate; principled; strong; weak; flawed; wrong and right.

Every song in the film is a hit and I have been thinking about how I could use each one as a teaching tool; either with staff as part of CPD, or pupils, in PSE or an assembly, or both.

Maybe one a month throughout next year?


The Greatest Show

Message: Life is here for the taking. Don’t put it off, seize it.

It’s everything you ever want

It’s everything you ever need

And it’s here right in front of you

This is where you wanna be.



A Million Dreams

Message: Even when life is tough, imagination and dreams can help us find solutions and set us free. Barnum as a child is abused, neglected and orphaned but he has big dreams and forms alternative secure attachments that help him though. There is hope for children who suffer early trauma.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy

They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind

I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy

We can live in a world that we design.



Come Alive

Message: We can beat sadness, low mood and negativity by connecting with others and finding the light and colour in life. There can be sunshine after rain.

‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking

Think of that your only option

But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day

Sun is up and the color’s blinding

Take the world and redefine it

Leave behind your narrow mind

You’ll never be the same.



The Other Side

Message: Be prepared to take risks in order to achieve your potential and find fulfillment. Don’t stay with what is safe and known. (This is a good one for me just now as I try to persuade some staff and pupils to take risks.)

Don’t you wanna get away to a whole new part you’re gonna play

‘Cause I got what you need, so come with me and take the ride

To the other side

So if you do like I do

So if you do like me

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key

Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly.



Never Enough

Message: No matter how much we have, it can feel as if it is never enough. In the film, we see that this is true at times for both Jenny Lind and Barnum. It has certainly been a theme in my life. Interestingly, we discover that Jenny was born out of wedlock and has clearly spent her life looking for something to replace a missing bond; in the film, she seems unable to find a way of healing her internal hurt child and to find a love that might help heal that.


All the shine of a thousand spotlights

All the stars we steal from the night sky

Will never be enough

Never be enough

Towers of gold are still too little

These hands could hold the world but it’ll

Never be enough.



This is Me

Message: We are all beautiful, unique, worthy of love and respect. There is no such thing as normal. There is no need to be ashamed of who we are. Bullies, stop.


When the sharpest words wanna cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me.




Rewrite The Stars

Message: The love that dare not speak its name must be named and celebrated. Race issues back then, LGBTQ issues now; we need to keep changing the world….. and it is not impossible.

How do we rewrite the stars?

Say you were made to be mine?

Nothing can keep us apart

Cause you are the one I was meant to find

It’s up to you

And it’s up to me

No one can say what we get to be

Why don’t we rewrite the stars?

Changing the world to be ours.




Message: Life is never straightforward but it is the most wonderful adventure; to make the most of it we need to acknowledge that it has ups and downs, that we need to take risks but that we also need a stable hand to hold.

Hand in my hand

And you promised to never let go

We’re walking the tightrope

High in the sky

We can see the whole world down below

We’re walking the tightrope

Never sure, will you catch me if I should fall?

Well, it’s all an adventure

That comes with a breathtaking view



From Now On

Message: We can learn from our past mistakes, see what is important and choose to live by our true values and with love. Right now.

I saw the sun begin to dim

And felt that winter wind

Blow cold

A man learns who is there for him

When the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold

Cause from then, rubble

What remains

Can only be what’s true

If all was lost

There’s more I gained

Cause it led me back

To you.


So there it is.

In writing this, I have listened again to all the songs again and I have found lyrics and subtleties that could make me start all over again. I am inspired, moved and amazed all over again.

I know that not everyone likes a musical. That some will find it cheesy. But if not, why not embrace this incredible opportunity to help you develop a culture that celebrates love, life, creativity, diversity, vulnerability and the immeasurable power of the arts?

Same old?⤴


I want to let you into a little secret.

I have a scheme of work that I teach to first years in Drama that I have been teaching since 1994.

It is called Cuddington Manor and the idea, about a haunted house and young person who goes there to try and solve a mystery, was given to me a colleague; I took it and developed it in my early years of teaching in London. For a while most of the ideas were in my head.

Once I became head of department, I had to write a detailed scheme of work and lesson plans for a couple of colleagues who were science teachers but teaching some drama for me.

The scheme has travelled with me through four schools and never failed me. Pupils throughout the UK have loved it and I have loved teaching it to them.

I have refined and added to it over the years, learning from successes and less successful lessons, creating PowerPoints (which weren’t part of our teaching toolkit back in the day), adding learning intentions and success criteria and matching against Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes and Benchmarks.

I don’t do the bit where I turn all the lights off and light a candle any more as I know the janitors would have a collective heart attack.

And I have had to do some research into whether Lords and Ladies of the manor are quite the same in Scotland as England; but then of course there was Monarch of the Glen which re-assured me.

And this year I have made a connection between the work we do on suspense and the murder-mystery genre with Death in Paradise, the hit BBC TV series.

But here’s the thing. I am still pretty much teaching the same thing in the same way as I was nearly 25 years ago, because it works. It works because I teach every lesson with fresh eyes and a passion, confidence and energy that makes the content new and interesting to every child who experiences it. And because I get those motivating, stage-fright anticipatory nerves before every single lesson, no matter how familiar the content.

Let’s not waste paint on walls that don’t need re-decorating (to borrow an image from @therealdavidcameron)

Let’s not re-invent wheels when they still run smoothly and take passengers to where they need to go.




One month in.⤴


Some reflections on having been in my permanent post for a month.

That’s it. No more Acting.
No more imposter syndrome.
No more making excuses.

I am here.
It is different to before. I feel a little more empowered and a lot more privileged to have been chosen to be doing what I am for real.

But some things are no different. My vision. My aspirations. My optimism and passionate desire to make every child and adult in our school community achieve the absolute best they can.

I have been reflecting and looking back over the things I said I wanted to be and achieve as a school leader and I am glad to say that they have not changed:

Everyone must be willing to self-reflect and learn.

We don’t shout at others.

We all get things wrong and need to be able to apologise when we do.

We are all human and being in a position of authority does not mean you are better than anyone else.

Everyone needs to take time to see the reality of a situation and not fall into making judgements based on half-truths, prejudice or stereotypes.

Everyone is worthy of love.


These non-negotiables were arrived at after working in a number of settings over many years but I would assert that they are absolutely essential in any successful school.

And they are still what I hold true to.

My job is the best job in the world.



Today has been a very strange day. I was lucky enough to go to Glasgow to attend the first training in Scotland for school leaders by Paul Dix from Pivotal Education. Paul was as expected; inspiring informative and very entertaining.

But I will talk about that another time. This post is about communication.

In our school we encourage pupils not to use their mobile phones during the day and where possible not to contact their parents unless absolutely necessary. There have been situations where pupils have sent a text, for example, that has caused concern to a parent and led them to phone in, only to discover that perhaps the wrong end of the stick has been got.

There are many times, however, when mobiles can be very useful, such as when we are on a school trip and the bus is due to arrive back early. A quick call home by pupils when we are half an hour away can avoid them having to stand around in a cold car park for half an hour.
Similarly, if a pupil has forgotten PE kit / inhaler/packed lunch, a quick text home can result in the parent dropping it off at reception with no fuss, instead of the pupil having to take 15 minutes out of class to go to the school office and ask them to make a call home etc, etc.

Most pupils use their phones very responsibly during the school day.

Imagine, then, how I felt when I checked my phone during a brief break this morning to see the following message from my daughter, who is also a pupil at my school:

The school’s on fire!!!!!

A hundred reactions and thoughts went through my head, including:
A massive panic about my children, our children, my colleagues.
“Someone has her phone and it is a joke”.
“I am not there so who has the high-vis jacket and is registering staff?”
“It CAN’T be a drill as prelims are on….”

After some messaging back and forth, I established that it was a real fire but that everyone was safe and soon after that school was being evacuated and pupils sent home.

I sent a message to my colleagues but did not call the school: I knew 100% that they would be fully engaged in managing the critical incident and that the last thing they would need would be me tying up their time or phone lines.

And soon emails, tweets and messages appeared from school to re-assure parents.

And I was re-assured.

Driving home tonight I reflected on how many text messages must get sent nowadays in the moments before real tragedies and how they must render loved-ones completely distraught.

Modern communication is fantastic and yet it can also lead us to over- or mis-communicate at times.

Tonight I will put my phone down and give my two a big hug instead.

I know as teenagers they might resist…. but it will tell them everything they need to know.







Happy, healthy and doing the best they can.⤴


If you have read my previous posts, you will know that I am fairly single-minded about my vision; to help every young person in my care to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can. If I see that children are being deprived of the opportunity to thrive I will fight tooth and nail to put it right.

I want the world to be fair, safe and full of opportunity for every single child and so when things get in the way of that, I get angry and sad.

In school, we do the absolute best we can with the resources we have to support our children.

But we also need to know that they experience a life that is fair, safe and full of opportunity when they are outside of our environment.

We know that this will not be the case if they are out drinking alcohol from a young age.

We know that this will not be the case if they are taking drugs.

We know that this will not be the case if they are engaging in inappropriate sexual activity.

We know that this will not be the case if they do not have clear boundaries.

If we as parents cannot define the safe boundaries for our children then we need to ask for help.

There is no shame in this. We end up in this parenting role with very little preparation and if we are lucky enough to have had good role models in our families, then we probably do a good enough job.

But if we are struggling to get it right, we need to be honest and say so.

As a school leader, I don’t want parents to feel that they need to struggle alone. I need them to be honest and work with me so that we can create the environment both in and out of school that will allow our children to thrive.

It takes a village to raise a child. But we will only raise that child well if the adults in the village are honest, willing to work together and able to ask for help when they need it.









Caring Professionalism. For#cultureofwellbeingDGinset 7.01.18⤴


We work in a caring profession. The dictionary tells us so:
caring profession
plural noun: caring professions
1. a job that involves looking after other people, such as nursing, teaching, or social work.

Yet sometimes it seems as though we have lost sight of the care in our profession.

A hint of why this is might come from the response by Kevin Courtney of the NUT to the reported drop in teacher training numbers this week:

Mr Courtney said: “It’s not the hours but the nature of the work – producing evidence for bureaucrats is taking hours of teachers’ time.
“The workload is not only causing problems with people leaving, but now with people coming into the profession.”

It is hard to be caring when you have to treat tiny children as if they are data producers.
It is hard to be caring when you are working ridiculously long hours to keep up with yet more changes in the exam system.
It is hard to be caring when you are having to cover for absent staff.

But caring is what we are about. I wrote this back in October:

In it, I said:
“What I want, or need, to say now, is that I don’t think most schools work.
I don’t think they can, unless we commit to a fundamental shift in what they are about.
Although they are first and foremost about teaching and facilitating learning, we also have to be honest and admit that they are about caring for and looking after the most precious things in other adults’ lives.”

I am a senior leader. I would like to run a school one day.
I know that there are certain jobs that I will never get because I wear my heart on my sleeve and I put caring first and foremost in what I do.
I know that some people see me as soft / a snowflake / progressive / unrealistic… and sometimes even unprofessional because I refuse to follow directives for the sake of it. Instead, I question decisions on the basis of whether they are in the best interests of the wellbeing of children and staff. I know that having shown myself as vulnerable and having been honest and reflective about wellbeing and mental health makes some wary of me.

But I stand firm in my belief that a commitment to caring is the thing that makes us ultimately professional and the thing that will eventually mean that education can move on and allow children and staff to thrive.
Children need structure, routine and boundaries if they are to develop agency and self-regulation. But show me the evidence that shouting , humiliation or high-stakes testing have a part to play in this.
If you want evidence that a caring approach towards children is far more effective than a punitive, controlling approach then don’t just take it from me, have a look at the following:


Read every single other post on this #cultureofwellbeingDGinset platform today.

Read this by the brilliant Mary Meredith (@marymered):

And above all, read Paul Dix’s fantastic book “When the Adults Change, Everything Changes”.

Caring professionalism also takes self-care seriously.

In the medical profession, there is a clearly-stated recognition that doctor wellbeing is essential to patient wellbeing. The Physician’s Charter, latest updated in October 2017 by The World Medical Association, contains the pledge:
“I WILL ATTEND TO my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard.”
(I know about all of this from connecting with the inspiring Michael Farquhar (@DrMikeFarquhar) on Twitter. Mike is a Consultant in Sleep Medicine and writes passionately about the need for sensible working and sleep patterns for doctors. Read more here: )

We lack a similar pledge within our standards for teacher registration in Scotland. The only reference to wellbeing in our Standards appears in 3.2.2 “demonstrate a secure knowledge and understanding of the wellbeing indicators” and this relates to pupil wellbeing.

The education of our children is not something to be taken lightly.
Having teachers who are able to be nurturing, calm, positive, realistically optimistic and caring for children is vital. One of the greatest things we can achieve as adults working with children is to be positive, caring wellbeing role-models.

Do you need some support around your own well-being? Then check out some of the great groups on Twitter such as @HealthyToolkit ( or @teacher5aday.

Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a research scientist who specialises in the impact of attachment and connection, talks about our society undergoing a “revolution in kindness” towards children.

Join that revolution. Dare to care too.





Nothing new.⤴


A revolution.
A revelation.
No resolutions.
I am not a shirker of resolve but sometimes my resolve is too great. So, for 2018, a decision simply to consolidate.
To make more solid that which has been started.

To become more solid.
To keep on…
…working to improve the opportunities whereby all children can learn
…fighting against injustice
….speaking the truth
….hoping for recovery.

Not a better version of my Self but good enough.

Wishing peace and contentment to you and yours.

Staffrm Transfer 15 – A Black Dog, Self-Care Sunday, WomenED Unconference.⤴


A black dog.


Lena Carter · 4 months ago

Sometimes life takes the wind out of your sails.

Our lovely black dog was run over on Wednesday and died.

We had friends over for dinner and our attention was not in her when she decided to take off for an adventure. Of course, we have done the what-ifs and the self-blame and the remorse but the reality is that it was an accident.

There is now a big, black dog-shaped hole in our lives and we are terribly sad. I know that we have been here before, both with pets and people and that we will feel better. But that does not really help.

I remember that during my training as a therapist, I came across the idea that, far from making us desensitised to death, every bereavement triggers the memory of all of our previous losses.

We need to sit with our sadness, allow it and not censor it.

My son spent almost all of yesterday inconsolable. Nothing I could say seemed to help. I talked of the fact that life is both good and bad, happy and sad. I spoke of rainbows and sunshine after rain.

But mostly I hugged and wiped tears and encouraged him to sleep.

Because sometimes what is needed is sleep and time. Sleep can certainly be the “balm of hurt minds” referred to in Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

We’ll get there, I know.

But the black dog is very much with us all for the time being.


Lena Carter · 3 months ago

Having been prompted by my wonderful @HealthyToolkitHT friends, I am writing a post on what I will be doing to look after myself today.

First of all, I stayed in bed until 8. Not asleep, granted, but I took time to lay there and breathe to combat the worry-monkeys who wanted me up and doing at 6. Mindful breathing and three good things exercises always work now.

I have moved on a lot from here:…

Secondly, I am writing this from my exercise bike, as I simultaneously pedal and type. For me, a bit of gentle exercise each day is crucial for keeping my vestibular system in order and sending some happy-making dopamine to the right bits of my brain. (Apologies, scientists, but that is my understanding of why I need to do it).

Thirdly, I have left today free of any other commitments so that I can do some work for the week ahead. Yes, for me this IS self-care, even though working for self-care may seem counterintuitive. I have a lot to do at the moment due to staff issues at school and I am only going to keep on top of running my school if I plan well and stay calm.

But my mission to look after myself actually started yesterday. I took 5 minutes at the start of the day to email some colleagues in my authority to ask for some help in doing the work I have to do. Nothing demanded of them except “can you email me a couple of power points, please?”. By the end of the day they had sent what I need, so that part of today’s work will take just an hour instead of three.

And then yesterday I spent the whole day shopping and at the theatre in Glasgow with my daughter. This re-charged me and my brain and was the proper switch-off needed so that today my brain will work better again.

I have a colleague at work who feels it is condescending when he is told to “work smart” instead of “work hard.” I am afraid that for me, it is the only answer.

Also from my bike, (10 mins to go), I am making important connections with my personal learning network through Twitter, @staffrm‍  and other blogs. I have just read this:…

which is a great read in this thread.

So, that’s me, in my own idiosyncratic, self-caring way.

How about you?



Lena Carter · 2 months ago

I should be at the Womened Unconference this weekend.

After wanting desperately to be there last year, I had planned and booked early this year. Hotel and train sorted, plans to meet up with people made, workshop sessions provisionally chosen.

But I am not there.

The last week at work has been really challenging. Long days, high adrenaline situations, tensions to diffuse, children in crisis. The usual stuff of school leadership.

When I got in at 8.30pm on Thursday ready to pack/do the jobs I usually do at the weekend/plan for work on Friday, I realised that perhaps I was being a bit over-optimistic.

And then my husband reminded me that my son was having teeth out on Friday. And I realised. I couldn’t go. The thought of not being there to give him the comfort and support needed after such a painful and potentially traumatic event made me stop in my tracks; I had teeth our for braces when I was about my son’s age and I remember the experience to this day. And it made me realise that I have allowed my priorities to get a bit skewed of late. I have left too much to my husband in terms of home and family. I have allowed the life-work balance scale to tip too much to the side of work.

Although the Unconference would not have been work, it would have prevented me from being with my family when they need me. And in all honesty, it would probably also have prevented me from getting the rest I desperately need this week-end. Six hours on trains, two nights in a hotel and the mad excitement of meeting so many role-models and friends are probably not what I really need today.

So I am at home. Not long ago, the me sitting here would have felt a failure. I would have been beating myself up for not showing up. For letting Hannah down. For not being the superhuman-superwoman that the other women who have shown up are. But today I am not feeling like that.

One thing that being part of #womened has shown me over the last year is that no-one who really understands what #womened is about will judge me for not being there. There is no space in the incredible, supportive network for judgement that might allow our already critical inner chimps to start a party.

Hannah has asked us to reflect on what #womened has done for us over the last year and so my contribution to the Unconference is to tell you this:

1. It allowed me to connect with Mal Krishnasamy and be coached by her over the past year. For me, this has been transformational.

2. It allowed me to connect with Hannah and Caradh and make steps towards creating a #womened network in Scotland. Ours have been baby steps but a phenomenal group of women came together in May and have stayed connected via the #womenedwednesday hashtag.

3. It has helped me to find my tribe, to find my voice and to become more of the authentic leader I need to be. I would have loved some real hugs and real connection today but the virtual support from connections through twitter, staffroom, facebook and email has kept me going over the past year.

4. It has helped me to become about 110% braver.

5. It has made me feel proud of myself.

Staffrm Transfer 14 – Jane Eyre Part 2, Wellbeing Digimeet, Jukebox June, Destiny, Food Meditation.⤴


Jane Eyre Part 2


Lena Carter · 6 months ago

Last weekend I went to see the amazing National Theatre production of Jane Eyre. I have already written about it here…

But for #womenedwednesday, I wanted to write another short thought burst.

Jane has been described as a feminist icon, a girl and woman who shows outstanding resilience and achieves success against the odds. The play version opens and closes with the line “it’s a girl” the first time heralding Jane’s birth and the second the birth of her daughter.

Jane’s story gives hope to women everywhere that they can challenge convention and find contentment if they follow their hearts. There is no convenient marriage to a pastor for her because she refuses to compromise and accept less than she will be satisfied with.

However, the story gives hope to men everywhere too. I read the book of Jane Eyre aged 13 and cannot remember my reaction back then to Mr Rochester. Possibly the play version portrays him in a way that the book does not. But in watching the play, I felt equally inspired by his story as by Jane’s because he too fights against convention and shows a vulnerability that must have been uncommon for a man of his era. He is certainly flawed and has made some potentially catastrophic mistakes in his life. Possibly the hardest to forgive is his attempt to marry Jane without telling her about his marriage to Bertha and were it not for the subsequent reversal of fortunes, we may judge him rather more harshly.

But as it is, he is presented as a sensitive, vulnerable and above all loving man who breaks the mould of masculinity, recognises his flaws and follows his heart.

Yes, then, in Jane Eyre we find a female role model who shows

strength and fights to become all she can be. But we also get a glimpse of the type of man who will support a women in that fight and allows her to be the passionate, flawed and authentic.

That’s pretty #heforshe if you ask me.

Oh crikey, is it my turn?


Lena Carter · 6 months ago


So first of all, I have to say that I am pretty amazed to see my name in the line-up of people contributing to today’s incredible wellbeing digimeet, organised by my heroine @cerasmusteach‍

(Imposter Syndrome addressed and quickly moves on.)

I write a lot about wellbeing. Teacher, pupil, parent, mine. I know a lot about it. I have experienced a lack of wellbeing for parts of my life and witnessed the same in many others.

I have regained wellbeing and helped others to do that too.

I have talked a lot, trained a lot and I can produce initiatives with the best of them.

This was a good one:…

And this was another:…

And this, just this week, got a lot of positive feedback:…

Last year I got really engaged over mental health and stigma:…

In fact, most of my blog posts relate to wellbeing initiatives in some form or another.

But here’s the thing.

Initiatives don’t get the job done. It is the spirit and culture in your school that matter. It is your behaviour that matters.

A year ago I wrote a post about the things we need to consider, if we choose to take on the huge responsibility and great honour of shaping the lives of children.

Today, I adapt this slightly and offer you my humble opinion on the five key questions to which we need to be able to answer “yes”, if we are to help create a genuine culture of wellbeing in our schools.

1. Do you like children and are you able to love each one as if they were related to you and may rely on you to be their turnaround adult?

2. Are you self-aware and self-reflective and have you worked on your own mental wellbeing?

3. Are you trauma-informed and do you understand that your behaviour can impact on the mental health of others?

4. Are you genuine in your belief that recovery is possible and that showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but of strength?

5. Do you take time to listen when someone asks “can I talk to you?” or look for the signs that they want to talk but perhaps can’t?

Life is complex. But that is its simplicity. If we understand that, we can experience and promote wellbeing.

Life is not perfect. Bad things happen as well as amazing things and we can’t always control events around us. There are good feelings as well as bad. But we can have control over our thoughts and our actions if we work together to understand, deeply, who we are.

We need to encourage children to see this. We need to talk about it and help them to live with complexity. Not to scare them, not to induce anxiety. But to prepare them for life and to help them understand what awaits them.

#JukeboxJuneHT plus one


Lena Carter · 5 months ago

On Saturday I stood in a park and had my faith in humanity and the world completely restored.

Music is an incredible tool that can connect us on a deep spiritual and archetypal level with others. Those of us who took part in @HealthyToolkitHT’s #JukeboxJuneHT will know this.

For an hour and three quarters on Saturday I danced, sang, wept and connected as Green Day shared songs of hurt, hope, loss and love.

Billy Joe Armstrong reminded us of why he is truly a legend; he inspired the crowd to sing along and to join him in demanding “no racism, no sexism, no homophobia…” and more. He spoke of the magic and strength of London and the need to stay positive after the recent atrocities. And he encouraged us to put down our phones and live in the moment.

Perhaps his strongest message came when he pointed out how all of our lives our messy and difficult but that we can overcome the difficulties by sharing and connecting with one another and celebrating the magic of life.

In the incredibly beautiful “Ordinary World”, we hear the question

“Where can I find the city of shining light

In an ordinary world?”.

London was that city on Saturday and the music and connection made it so.

It was the best start to a holiday ever.



Lena Carter · 5 months ago

So Prince William is going to “embrace his destiny”, give up flying air ambulances and commit himself full-time to royal duties at the age of thirty five, according to BBC radio 4’s Today programme.

What a loaded phrase. I rather like it. Perhaps it would make a good school motto: “Embracing our destinies together”.

But what would it really mean?

What was the destiny of that babe born with blue blood? To become King? To experience the breakdown of his parents’ marriage? To fly an air ambulance? To lose his mother at a tragically young age? To become an advocate for mental health awareness?

What is my destiny? What is yours? What is the destiny of the next pupil you will teach?

To be anyone, go anywhere, do anything?

I was determined not to become a teacher. My parents and aunt had been and I grew up knowing the reality of the job and the strains and stresses that go with it.

But maybe it was determined that I would become a teacher because of my nature and nurture.

When I’m feeling tired or low, I slip into trying to believe that there is something pre-determined for me, in the stars, decided by some celestial force.

Alternatively, I find myself tempted to assign determination to my genes, an inalterable DNA road-map that I won’t be able to re-write.

It would be easier that way; to be able to relinquish responsibility and to deny that I can do anything about it.

But I know, once I have shaken off my fatigue, that I have and can make choices. That even when things are difficult, I can find ways to achieve them. That even when my mindset is causing me problems, I can find ways to shift it and get back on track.

For the last couple of weeks, I have felt like turning my back on education. I have felt like a victim, not a saviour. I had lost some of my enthusiasm. Maybe that is just a natural part of being a teacher on holiday; a part of the period of introspection referred to in this wonderful article:…

But the enthusiasm has returned now.

My destiny is to help children and young people embrace theirs.

I can’t wait to get back at it.

Food meditation


Lena Carter · 4 months ago

I have written this as part of @HealthyToolkit’s August focus on food and eating.

It is a variation on a mindfulness meditation and may be useful if you  are struggling to manage your relationship with food or hunger.

Notice how you feel. Are you hungry? Do you know what for?

Is the hunger in your stomach? In your mouth? In your mind? Breathe and hold the feeling. Think about what you need in order to feel satisfied. Do you know?

Take a fresh pea pod. Hold it in your fingers. Look at the imperfections on the outside of the pod and then split it open. See the bright, fresh green of the perfectly shaped peas and take a moment to breathe. Marvel at the sheer magic of a world that can create those peas. Slowly take one of the peas and put it in your mouth. Explore the shape, the texture and then bite on it and notice the flavour. Can you taste it? Maybe not.

Chew, breathe and then take another, maybe two or three together if you like. Notice how they taste, how they feel.

Breathe, notice and focus on what you are feeling and thinking in this moment.

Notice how you feel. Are you hungry? Do you know what for?

Is the hunger in your stomach? In your mouth? In your mind? Breathe and hold the feeling. Think about what you need in order to feel satisfied. Do you know?

Take a wrapped sweetie. Hold it in your fingers. Look at the colours and designs on the outside of the wrapper and open it. See the sweetie inside and and take a moment to breathe. Marvel at the sheer magic of a world that can create that sweetie. Slowly take the sweetie and put it in your mouth. Explore the shape, the texture and then bite on it and notice the flavour. Can you taste it? Maybe not.

Chew, breathe and then unwrap another sweetie, maybe two or three together if you like. Notice how they taste, how they feel.

Breathe, notice and focus on what you are feeling and thinking in this moment.

Neither the peas nor the sweeties are “better” foods in this moment. Neither food is a reward or something you have deserved. They are both there for you to taste, to enjoy or not to enjoy. They are both marvellous creations from this marvellous world.

But neither the peas nor the sweeties are as marvellous as you are.

Take a breath. Notice how that make you feel. Neither the peas nor the sweeties are as marvellous as you are.

Notice how you feel. Are you hungry? Do you know what for?