Author Archives: lenabellina

Staffrm Transfer 9 – Just Dance 2, Reasons to be Cheerful, How are You?, On Behaviour Again, Herding⤴


Just dance…part two


Lena Carter · 11 months ago

So before Christmas, I wrote this:…

The results are in.  I work with some pretty amazing people and I want to share the joy with you. Listen along, beat the January blues. And just dance!

1. Bob Marley

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright…

2. Van Morrison

Brown Eyed Girl

3. Pablo Alborán

Pasos de Cero

4. Johnny Cash

Get Rhythm

5. Carly Simon

Let the River Run

6. Armstrong and Miller’s Farmer’s Market.

7. Nevada Ft Mark Morrison, Fetty Wap

The Mack

8. The Cult

She Sells Sanctuary

9. George Jones

White Lightening

10. The Beatles

Eight Days a Week

11. KC and the Sunshine Band

Give It Up

12. Rupert Holmes

Escape (the Pina Colada Song)

13. Toy Story/Randy Newman

You’ve got a Friend in Me

14. Laura Mvula

That’s Alright

15. Gerry Rafferty

Baker Street

16. Queen/David Bowie

Under Pressure

17. Spin Doctors

Two Princes

18. Rush

Far Cry

19. SABH


20. Journey

Don’t Stop Believing

21. Bon Jovi

Living on a Prayer

22. Patti Smith

People Have The Power

23. Justin Timberlake

Can’t Stop the Feeling

24. Cage The Elephant


25. KLF Ft Tammy Wynette

Justified and Ancient

26. Chris de Burgh

Patricia The Stripper

Reasons to be cheerful


Lena Carter · 11 months ago

Friday 20th January. The day that Donald Trump, billionaire and former TV mogul, is sworn in as 45th president of the US.

Life never ceases to surprise.

I hope that for some of you, this provides reason to celebrate and feel optimistic. For me, a normally optimistic person, it provides something slightly different. But my solution is to remember the words of my very wise dad when I used to worry about Reagan and the Cold War back in the 80s: “don’t waste time worrying about the big things you can’t control. Just focus on making a positive difference in your small corner of the world.”

Last Saturday I went to a leadership event where I heard, amongst others, the inspirational (real) David Cameron. I have heard him speak several times and he never fails to entertain or provoke thought.

The focus of what he said largely mirrored the words of my dad. He spoke about the challenges of education, the huge changes ahead and the tyranny of conflicting initiatives.

But he also highlighted the reasons why we do what we do and how we can focus on the things that matter in our own schools and contexts. There is a summary in my blog here:…

Remember the children.

Remember each other.

Remember why you chose do to this sometimes awful but mostly awesome job.

Keep on keeping on.

How are you?


Lena Carter · 11 months ago

How are you?

No, really, how are you? Have you stopped to notice?

Chances are you are a bit tired and run down. It’s that time of year when we maybe don’t think about our wellbeing as much as we should. The busyness around Prelims, reports and parents’ evenings; the dark mornings and evenings which stop us from seeing much daylight; the world courgette crisis and the imminent onslaught of February flu…..all these can serve to leave us vulnerable to illness.

We need to remember to look after ourselves, both physically and mentally.

So, here’s a quick rescue plan if you need a bit of a reminder:

1. Move for ten minutes each day. Walk, dance, vacuum, cycle, whatever works for you.

2. Get outside in the fresh air for 10 minutes each day. (Where possible combine with 1).

3. Think of three positive things each day before you go to sleep and again after you wake up.

4. Listen to a motivational song.

5. Eat and sleep as well as you possibly can.

Take Care.

On behaviour…again


Lena Carter · 10 months ago

Friday thoughts

A few thoughts on behaviour, most of which you will know and some of which it may help to be reminded of:

• Every so often we need to remind pupils about our classroom expectation and boundaries. The best time to do this is at the start of each term but it may be needed at other times. One of my S2 classes has needed it recently. I got too soft with them (due to them having been though a hard time emotionally) and they had begun to push things. So I got tough, reminded them about the fact that we need to learn and went back over the rules and sanctions:


Follow instructions first time

Listen to the speaker

Keep hands, feet, objects and comments to yourself

If not:





In 25 years of teaching, I have never needed any other rules or sanctions than these. They work with any pupil AS LONG AS I REMEMBER TO USE THEM and to stay calm, assertive, adult and model the behaviour I want to see.

• Behaviour is always communication but it is rarely personal to us. When a pupil who has had Adverse Childhood Experiences behaves in a way that is challenging to us, it is not about us; it is about them needing to have boundaries re-enforced, possibly over and over but in a calm and consistent way and until we re-assure them that the world is safe and that some things in life are ok. Some children may not find that re-assurance before they leave school.

• The effects of trauma in a child may take years to surface. When we feel that a particular child has no ‘reason’ to be behaving in a particular way, they may well have a very good reason that we just can’t see right now.

• We all get it wrong sometimes and it is ok to say sorry. I had to do that last week when I got frustrated with an S2 boy and showed it by snapping at him. I found him later in the day to apologise. I said “sorry, I did not give you a chance back there” and he said “sorry, I was tired”.

• Children who want to change their behaviour are often trapped by the expectations of others. The ‘bad boy’ who has always been so will continue to get blamed even once he is no longer guilty. It is the hardest thing to suspend our judgements and see every day as a new opportunity. If you have not seen this, watch it:…

If you want more great ideas on behaviour, this is fab, from Bill Rogers.…



Lena Carter · 10 months ago

Today we had a staff development day.

I put on my brave pants and was 10% braver.

I talked to middle leaders about what I have learnt from Karin Chenoweth…

and David Cameron…;

and laid my cards on the table about what kind of Head of Teaching and Learning I am, why we need to assume that 100% of our pupils can and why excuses are no good. Some voices in the room challenged me but the voices of my virtual PLN spurred me on.

I talked to all staff about our ethos consultation and why it is all of our job to celebrate the greatness in each other and our pupils.

I encouraged 2 colleagues to be 10% braver and they were phenomenal.

I apologised quite a few times. We laughed quite a few times.

I learnt that, when you have bought a cardigan from a charity shop, it is not a great idea to wear it for the first time in front of an audience only to discover it has holes in.

I am starting the long weekend (no half term in this part of Scotland) with hope.

I feel positive about seeds sown and although I am tired, it is the tiredness that follows working hard to achieve something.

I am hugely grateful to @womened, @SCEL, @healthyteachertoolkit and @malCPD.

I am feeling less of a tired old giraffe and more of a zebra in my herd……

Staffrm Transfer 8 – Stop Talking and Listen, Change is Gonna Come, I’m a Survivor, Be Amazing, Happy New Year.⤴


Sometimes we need to stop talking and listen.

Lena Carter · 1 year ago

I have blogged and said a lot over the last year.

I have decided to pare it back a bit and do more listening and watching. Because although I hope that what I write and say contains some elements of originality and inspiration, I think I need to go back to finding inspiration and re-assurance in the words of others.

I need to find time for the words of songs, literature and poetry, rather than making more new words and re-investing the wheel.

This really resonated with me yesterday:…

I love the idea of a curriculum built around wellbeing and stories and literature that give important life lessons.

Last week I watched Arthur Christmas with my son. A literary great? No. But an amazing tale of love, passion and why we have to fight for every child.

The stories are there, based on hundreds of thousands of years of human experience. But we need to take time to find and hear them.

Change is gonna come.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

We are at a time of great change in our school community. Some endings, some beginnings and some inevitable uncertainty.

Change is part of life. Some changes come unexpectedly and others are changes that we bring about ourselves.

Some of us will thrive on change. Others will find it unsettling, worrying, challenging.

Let’s remember that and watch out for one another. Let’s not be critical, judgmental or expect everyone to respond in the same


If a storm is raging around us, we can all feel re-assured if we know that we can rely on the support and kindness of others.

A few words from people wiser than me:

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Lao Tzu

“You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past

The only way to learn the secret…is to press play.”

Jay Asher. Thirteen Reasons Why.

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”

Paul Coelho

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.”


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

I’m a survivor.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

I have survived.

A week ago I was DHT pupil support in my school.

On Monday I began as Acting Head of Teaching and Learning (Secondary). And I carried on being DHT pupil support.

I quickly learnt about staff cover. I have personally covered 10 classes.

I have been decisive and spoken of a desire for high expectations and for every child to find their amazingness.

I have created a new whole school calendar.

I have been out on duty a lot and tackled unacceptable behaviour.

I have participated in the school concert and directed a short nativity involving second years.

I have bitten my tongue a lot.

I have apologised an awful lot.

I have not slept much.

I have asked for help and received it in bucketfuls.

I am exhausted, exhilarated and hungry for more. I am also just a little bit terrified.

I know that I can’t do it all at once and that my Achilles Heel will be in trying to.

I need to remember the people who need me back here at home as well as the ones at school.

And I need to remember myself.

I am grateful and blessed.

Be amazing.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

So the contract has arrived and it is official. I am acting Head of Teaching and Learning (Secondary) at my school until June.

This was my address to our whole school Christmas assembly today:

Over the past weeks and months, I have experienced and heard about some amazing things in this school.

• Amazing work going on in classrooms and a real commitment to learning and achieving the best.

• Amazing music and drama performances in the school concert and at other events in school and the community.

• Amazing results by our pupils in the maths challenge.

• Amazing sportsmanship and skill at sports events and tournaments.

• Amazing behaviour and representation of our school on trips such as the Manchester football weekend and the Outward Bound residential.

• Amazing demonstrations of friendship and support for one another in the difficult times.

• Amazing dedication from staff in this school both in and outside of classrooms

• An Amazing Snow Ball last night.

I could go on but I don’t have much voice left. So I will say this:

Christmas and the New Year is an opportunity to stop and reflect. To look at where we have been over the last year, to reflect on our successes and mistakes and to decide where we want to go next year. Every single one of you was born with the potential to be amazing at something. Take some time over the holidays to think about what you will be amazing at in 2017 so that when you come back, we can help you work towards it. Happy holidays, stay safe and see you next year.


Happy New Year


Lena Carter · 11 months ago

This week I wrote my end of year Wellbeing update.

I just love @staffrm‍

I love that I can come here to feel inspired, validated, informed and supported.

That’s it.

Thank you ALL for making it so.

Happy New Year.

That feeling.


Lena Carter · 11 months ago

So, I have that feeling.

Back to school on Monday and I feel a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

And although I know that ‘it’s normal’ and ‘all teachers get it’, for me it can be debilitating. It could, potentially ruin the last three days of my holiday by making me irritable with the ones I love, sleepless and physically unwell.

So I am fighting it.

It tells me that I can’t do all the things I have to do in my new role and that I should never have thought I could.

But I am telling it that I can. In 2010 I went back in January to a new promoted post for which I was far less prepared and qualified and I did a good job.

It tells me that I will never be able to implement the things I want to in my school. But I am telling it that I will. I have already worked with others to make significant changes and can do more. It won’t be easy and I will need to stay true to our school values and my vision…. But having support from my virtual clan and being provided with videos like this to watch (via Suzanne Zeedyk) will keep me focused:…

It tells me that I should have done more work in the holidays to get ahead.

I am telling it that I needed time off. To give attention and love to my friends and family. To fill my reserves. To get over niggling health issues. There would have been work to fill a hundred weeks of holiday but I need to work smarter, not longer.

It tells me that I can’t write a school timetable, my major task in the months ahead.

And I agree that I can’t. Not yet. I have done some training but need more. And I will need to ask others for help…. Which is very hard for me. But I know that I must.

So, I will do a few hours of work today and on Sunday. But I will also make sure that I watch some of the family films we recorded over the holiday. I will #exercisegently, #connect and #notice.

And I will finish my book, the Goldfinch.

And when the feeling comes back, as it inevitably will, I will remember the story of the King and the Ring (find a version here:…), know that “this too will pass” and take a deep breath in and out to help it on its way quicker.

Staffrm Transfer 7 – Such stuff that dreams are made on, When Everything is Awful, Friday again, Can I Talk to You, Let the Music Move you⤴


Such stuff that dreams are made on.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

This week has been one of the hardest ever in my professional life, even though we only had three days in school. Suffice to say that our community and school community are struggling.

My job has been to support staff and pupils as best I could.

On Friday we also had Active Girls Day ( which meant all of our girls were in sports activities while all the boys stayed in classes.

Period 6 came and I had planned a Halloween themed drama scriptwork activity with my second year class. I felt tired beyond belief and had to dig deep to find the energy to teach the class.

The group of eleven boys were unsettled when we started the lesson, entirely understandably. A room displacement from our usual space added to the disruption and of course the lack of girls created its own dynamic.

I explained the task but their attention wandered and I was not optimistic that they would be able to achieve what was required: small group rehearsal followed by a performance without scripts.

A couple of the boys seized on the fact that there were guitars in the room and asked whether they could create some spooky music to go with the script. I reluctantly agreed.

The rehearsal began. Noisy, chaotic with guitar music providing distraction. Boys falling out and blaming one another for not getting it right. Piercing screams (as per the stage directions) which had concerned colleagues looking through the door to check if all was ok.

(I have ongoing issues with colleagues judging me because of my noisy drama lessons when I am supposed to be a DHT with exemplary discipline. But that is probably for another blog post)

I sat at my desk, feeling anxious about the chaos, berating myself for my lack of classroom control. But then I looked again and saw, within the chaos, boys playing, interacting, being creative and imaginative. And I remembered why I am a drama teacher and why these creative spaces are so crucial.

And then it was time for the performances.

Pure gold. Funny, confident, with all engaged and doing the best they could. Lines almost perfect and with added improvisation. A dream rather than a nightmare.

“And Miss, we never giggled once! That was our target from last time.”

Life is messy. Learning can and should be messy. Let’s never forget that, even when out internal chimps and the external critics try and tell us otherwise.

When everything is awful.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

This post is an edited version of today’s Friday Thoughts email to staff in my school.

Good morning.

A slightly disconnected series of thoughts today. Please forgive and bear with me. It has been another hard week.

A university friend, Charlie Harthill, took his own life some years after we left university. It shook those of us who remained very much, particularly those who had know him since school days. His death made many of us more committed than ever to get mental health, depression and suicide talked about. This PDF was shared by one of those friends a year ago today and it popped up in my memory feed today. Please read it, use it, share it. If it does not resonate with you, there may be colleagues or pupils for whom it will make perfect sense:…

Next week is dyslexia awareness week and I am doing awareness-raising on dyslexia and different ability throughout the secondary school. Please look here to remind yourself about what you can be doing to support pupils:…

But please also remember that differentiation is about more than bits of yellow paper. It is about not judging, about using labels discerningly and about seeing, hearing and knowing every child in front of you to help that child thrive. No two dyslexics are the same. No two children are the same.

This is a charity that works to promote this message. Have a look at the home page and individual pen portraits:

After our difficult event this week, I set about getting on with work. I was told that two pupils were looking for me to give me ‘my hugs’. They were seeking out all the members of staff who had been involved to check they were ok and to give them a hug. I was so impressed and touched by their mature, caring, thoughtful attitude and actions and reminded of the importance of watching out for one another.

Take care of one another, today and every day. Take our pupils’ example and check that someone is ok. Give them that hug (or metaphorical hug.)

Take care.

Friday again.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

Today’s weekly Friday thoughts email to staff.

So, the news from the US has been a little unsettling this week. It has been quite hard to know what to say when pupils have asked about it.

On a positive note, I heard an incredibly inspiring American educational speaker last Saturday.

Her name was Karin Chenoweth and she talked about schools which had achieved success for all pupils. Her ideas are based on work in a range of schools across the US.

I wrote up my notes for my blog.

Although they make for a long read and are partially about what school leaders can do to turn schools around, they are fundamentally about teaching and school ethos.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read them, here are a few key ideas:

The 5 factors that make schools successful in raising attainment (based on observation and evidence from schools studied over 20 years):

1. What pupils need to know is clearly defined and teachers agree on this.

Karin said that often, there is too much confusion around this- teachers teaching what they want to teach and what they are comfortable with. The timetable must be structured around what pupils need to know in order to succeed in life.

2. Teachers collaborate on what they need to do to improve teaching and learning.

The most important factor in learning is the class teacher but the paradox is that no one teacher can do it all. C.f. the world of medicine- no one surgeon can do all surgery. She may be able to do heart surgery but not knee surgery. Teacher learning communities are key.

3.Teachers assess frequently- not to grade but to get feedback. AIFL all the way.

“Did they learn what I taught?” If 50% did not get it, you are not a bad teacher, you just need to try again. The “I am a bad teacher” approach allows excuses.

4. They use data to inform instruction.

Do not stick with what is easy / convenient. If it is not working, do something different.

5. Relationships are key.

Adult to adult. Adult to pupil.

Some other important ideas and challenge concepts:

· With the exception of pupils with complex additional support needs, we should believe that 100% of pupils can read to a nationally agreed standard. If they don’t, we need to teach differently. Educating 70% is not enough. Many who cannot read end up in prison.

· Differentiation can be the enemy of equity. (!)

· Belief that every child can learn and succeed is crucial but not enough. Belief needs to be backed up with hard work and a constantly reflective mindset.

· Teaching and learning can change a society.

· Keep trying and trying and trying.

One last thought from another inspiration from across the pond, though Canada not America:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”

RIP Leonard Cohen

The full post is here:

Can I talk to you?


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

Next week we launch our “Can I talk to you?” campaign in school.

This is the email I sent to staff today. Feel free to use/adapt:

Following discussions at the last parent council meetings and discussion with some other parents, we are going to have a “Can I talk to you?” campaign next week.

We all know that our pastoral team do a phenomenal job when pupils ask them for support.

However, there are some pupils who will not feel able to talk to someone in school, maybe through a fear of stigma, maybe through shyness. They need to know that there are other options and so we are going to issue all pupils with the information below on a flyer on Tuesday during period 2.

The information will also go on the school facebook page and I hope that it will get shared on other social media platforms.

If you are teaching a class on Tuesday when the flyer come around, can I please ask that you read it aloud to your class. It does not need any other explanation but please ask each pupil to take the flyer and keep it safe. They may not feel they need it just now but they may in the future.

Many thanks for your support in this matter.

Kindest regards


Can I talk to you?

Sometimes we all get worried or feel down about things. You will know that talking things through helps but it is important that you talk to the right person.

The best people in the first instance might well be your parents/carers. Although it might not seem like it, they probably understand you much better than you think they do!

If that doesn’t feel right, you could talk to someone in school: your guidance teacher or any member of staff with whom you feel comfortable. They may be able to help you and if not, they can find someone else who will.

If that still doesn’t feel right and you want something more confidential, there are a number of excellent organisations who can help – either via a phonecall, email or text message:

• Breathing Space is a free and confidential phone line for anyone experiencing low mood manned by trained advisors with mental health, counselling and social work backgrounds, who provide advice, support and understanding. Also provides support to family members, partners and friends who are concerned about the wellbeing of their loved ones. 24 hours at weekend, 6pm – 2am Monday to Thursday Tel: 0800 83 85 87.

• Childline is a 24 hour helpline for children and young people needing help with problems however big or small. Calls are free and confidential. Tel: 0800 1111.

• Samaritans provide a confidential, non-judgemental emotional support for people who are distressed or experiencing feelings of despair, including those contemplating suicide. Tel: 08457 90 90 90 (UK).

The hardest thing can be starting the conversation. Just try “Can I talk to you?”

Let the music move you.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

We are off work today and Monday. A quirk of the Scottish holiday system.

For me, some much needed family time and catch-up.

Those familiar with my blog will know that I send a weekly “Friday Thoughts” email to staff. Usually it contains a bit of reflection and it challenges others to reflect; CPD on a budget. This week it was Thursday Thoughts and took a slightly different turn. I got a greater number of responses than I have ever got from an FT email and spent my day sporadically dancing in my office as each response popped in between the phonecalls, classes, crises and attempts at strategic thinking. I could hear odd snippets of Justin ringing out through the school and even witnessed an S5 class allowing themselves a little shuffle as their teacher shared it with them……

Magic stuff. Creativity unites.

This is what I wrote:

Good morning

What? Friday thoughts on a Thursday?

I’m a rebel, me.

Something a bit different this week. Here’s how it works:

· Think of one song that makes you feel happy and/or motivated.

· Send me the title or, better still, a YouTube link.

· I will put them together into a playlist and share, ready for us to listen to when we come back in January (oh, to have a whole school tannoy like we did in my last school!)

A chance for us to share a bit of joy with each other and share a bit of ourselves.

Here’s mine; it makes me smile and want to dance every time I see it. Much to the embarrassment of my daughter.…

(Justin Timberlake Can’t Stop the Feeling)

Have a restful and incredibly well-deserved long weekend.

Kindest regards


Staffrm Transfer 6 – Celebration, Blogging as Reflection, Optimistic October, Disconnect Time, Post-holiday Post⤴


Celebration time.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

I am going away to the wedding of my step-son and his partner tomorrow night and am already in holiday mode. I am getting ahead of myself and blogging tonight instead of on Saturday.

I have written a reflective post here:

But for this post I just want to share the three songs that went with my CPD on Monday:

Wishing my fab lone lunatic colleagues a brilliant weekend when it comes.

See you on the other side!

Blogging as reflection

Lena Carter · 1 year ago

Today I am leading a learning conversation at Pedagoo Muckle on Blogging as a reflective tool

I am a little apprehensive. These are the notes I have made to help me:

I am a newbie blogger: celebrated the 1 year anniversary last month: ResearchEd.

Blog – what on earth is that? Had to google it.

Section from my Into Headship Journal – September 2016.

“But within the Standards there is also the reference to the need to ‘to ask critical questions of educational policies and practices and to examine our attitudes and beliefs. Values, and the connections between values and practices, need to be regularly re-appraised over the course of teachers’ careers as society and the needs of learners change and as understanding develops.’ (GTC 2012, p6).

“I think that, a week ago, I would have said that I am a reflective practitioner but my reading over the last week has challenged me to think about the quality of my reflection. I have found that Gray’s ideas on the difference between reflection and critical reflection (Gray 2007), alongside Brookfield’s writing on hegemonic assumptions and the need to look at practice for what it really is (Brookfield 1995) have made me realise that often my reflection is uncritical. I mentioned in the webinar on Tuesday that I have a tendency to overthink and allow irrational worry to infiltrate my thinking and that this may well lead to what Brookfield refers to as ‘self-destructive workaholism’ (Brookfield 1995, p16). There is a need for me to adopt more rigour in my critical reflection and analysis of the tools described by Gray (Gray 2007) lead me to believe that this can be achieved by use of a reflective journal and critical incident analysis.”

Tentative start.First blog post was others’ ideas.

Husband – what do YOU think?Me?!? Who wants to know what I think?


Support structures:





Pedagoo – excellent support to start

#Teacher 5 a day





Honesty? How honest? Maybe too honest?

Links with current thinking on authenticity and vulnerability: Brené Brown. TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability:

“Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

“To me, a leader is someone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.”

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.”

What type of role models do we want to be?

Optimistic October


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

Optimism. Glass half full or glass half empty? Maybe a bit of both. Not pretending that life doesn’t have difficult moments but accepting the ups and downs.

Passion. Find that thing you care about and plan to do more of it in the future.

Thrive. Rather than survive. You owe it to yourself.

Inspiration. Connect with others and fill your world with positive reinforcement throughout the day.

Music. Have songs at the ready to help you stay hopeful. My favourite album for this is ‘Like Comedy’ by The Proclaimers.

Involve yourself. Join in, sign up… for events, concerts, lunch dates, drama groups, sports teams. Having things to look forward to in the diary helps a lot.

Start something. Once you have started plan how to progress it further into the future.

Trust. In yourself. In others. In humanity and in natural processes.

Imagination. Picture what your ideal future looks like and set off towards it.

Celebrations. Plan to celebrate as much as possible. Eat cake, drink wine, dance and sing. Celebrate each new day if you feel like it.

October. Has been the happiest and saddest of months for me. The month my daughter was born and the month I lost my lovely Grandmother aged a magnificent 100. The highs and the lows.

Connect. The more people you get to know, the more perspectives you will come to understand and the more you will see how diverse and amazing the human race is.

Teach. Children are the messages we send into the future (Brent Davies). Make them good ones.

Obstacles. Embrace them and use them to develop resilience and courage.

Blessings. Count them. Friends, family, the autumn colours, the sunset.

Explore. The world is a vast and exciting place. New vistas often offer new hope.

Reflect. Look back and learn so that you can move forward.

Disconnect time.


Lena Carter · 1 year ago

Today I start my holiday. I won’t be around on here for a while. Time to disconnect.

I wrote this to staff in this week’s ‘Friday Thoughts’:

Thank you:

For supporting all of our pupils to thrive and shine.

For taking extra care of our most vulnerable children.

For going above and beyond in difficult times.

Please, this holiday,:

Take the time to make sure that you thrive and shine.

Take care of yourself.

Go above and beyond for YOU and your family.

Thank you again.

I need to follow my own advice. Those on holiday too, have a great one.

Post holiday post

Lena Carter · 1 year ago

I have been on holiday this week.

I have switched off.

I have started a mindfulness course which has really opened my eyes:…

I have started each day by dancing to Justin Timberlake:…

I have eaten well, walked a lot and connected with family.

I invented a game which we played: You need access to Youtube. Each person shares and plays their “favourite song at this moment in time”. It is brilliant to play in an intergenerational group as Grandad gets to hear Green Day and daughter gets to hear Bizet. And no one day is the same as the next as it is mood dependent.

I have had a couple of days of feeling utterly wretched.

I have reflected a lot. I also wrote a blog post, even though I had not planned to.

I have devoured ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham.

I now have 4 days left.

I need to go into work on at least one, probably one and a half.

But I plan to hold on to feeling calm.

I plan to stay mindful, multitask less and be more focused.

And I plan to keep dancing.

Have a great break, if yours is just starting. Xx

8 blogs that I am glad I wrote in 2017.⤴


There seems to be a trend that people are sharing their top 10 blogs from 2017.

I l blogged less in 2017 than I had in 2016 and lost my way a bit.

I nearly gave up blogging altogether but I am glad I didn’t as writing keeps me sane, helps me reflect and most importantly connects me with others.

To buck the trend of top 10s, here are my top 8. Thanks for reading my ramblings, for engaging with them and for challenging me when I talk nonsense.

I will probably carry on in 2018 and I’d love you to keep reading.


This one is about keeping on top of things when life seems to be against you:


This one is very long and probably quite boring unless you are interested in timetabling from scratch:


This one is a reflection on the nonsensical nature of judging children through exams:


This one is about why we have to teach about mental health:


This one is about our why:


This one is about caring:


This one is also too long but talks about my latest obsession and a revolution in kindness:

8. And lastly, this one is about honesty.

Have a great New Year celebration and a magical 2018.



And so this is Christmas.⤴


And so here we are. A late break-up on Friday, a mad panic now to get it all done……and I sit once again on my exercise bike and ponder.

I have the usual side throat and swollen glands. I have the usual feeling of panic at the days of enforced eating and relaxation ahead. I am beyond tired and the cosy film-watching in front of the tv has already been spoiled by my inability to stay awake for more than 5 minutes: “Mum!!! Wake up! Stand up! Drink coffee!”.

But I also have an unusual sense that things are ok.
That I am ok.

I have achieved a lot this year. I have been a success in my role as Acting Head of Secondary Teaching and Learning, I have written a school timetable which works (my first), I have started to make changes in the teaching and learning culture at school and I have submitted an application for the post on a permanent basis. Wish me luck.

As for any school in Scotland this year, we have faced significant challenges in terms of staffing and austerity measures and it has been a very challenging period.
We have come to learn that the much-needed mental health support for many of our vulnerable children now on the whole has to come from within the school. I have worked hard to ensure that all of our staff work in a way that is nurturing of pupils who need unconditional love, aspirational role models and positive regard if they are to thrive.

I have worked very, very hard this year. But that is ok. Because as well as the bigger achievements outlined above, I have some smaller ones squirrelled away in my heart that I can’t tell you about in detail. They involve unexpected thank-yous, achievements and attendance from pupils who without our support might have given up or been given up on.

Below is the address I gave to the school on Thursday.
Achievements, mistakes, learning, fun and kindness. What else is there?
Happy holidays to all my wonderful friends.


“And so, it falls to me, at the end of this assembly, to say thank you.

First of all I want to thank all those who have contributed to this fantastic assembly.
But I would also like to thank you all, for everything you have done over the last year to make our school the respectful, achieving, happy and safe place that it is.

This time last year I talked to you about the fact that you all had the potential to do amazing things in the year ahead. And over the last 12 months we as a school have achieved some truly amazing things. From the academic successes in qualifications achieved by our senior phase students last year, to the brilliant achievements of our pupils in sporting activities, to the outstanding musical performances such as those in last week’s concert but also in the social events that have taken place including last night’s fantastic Snowball, you have shown that you are truly amazing.

Of course there are some of us in the room who have not always got it right, who have made mistakes and who have needed to move on from these mistakes and learn from them. And as a place of learning, our school will always support you in that.
As the great Nelson Mandela once said:
“I never lose. I either win or learn.”

Thank you for making our school a place of great learning over the last year.

And thank you especially from me to all of the staff in the school who have made that possible.

Finally I would like to take this opportunity to wish every one of you a wonderful Christmas.
Be kind, have fun and stay safe.
Happy Christmas.”





Hi there
It’s me.
Not sure if you remember? I write a blog. It used to get a lot of praise, sharing and admiration.
The words associated with it… and therefore I guess with me…. were mainly “honest” and “brave.”


Now I know that lots of people would see those words as a good thing; those people who I would consider to be part of my tribe; those who live by the values of Brené Brown; those who want to change the world and stop us from living a life of artificiality and dishonesty; those who, like me, have valued the quote attributed to Tom Hanks: “The only way you can truly control how you are seen is by being honest all the time”.

But I have come to realise recently that for many, those words trigger an underlying suspicion that I am foolish, a loose cannon, difficult, unable to understand that my way is not the only way.

You will notice that I haven’t written much lately. The wellbeing updates, the honest reflections, the analyses of the type of honest school leader I want to be have stopped.


Because I don’t think that people want to know the honest truth about some things.
And because I have realised that my truth is not absolute and that sometimes I need to accept that other truths are equally valid.

Rest assured that this is not about my current situation or my current school. I absolutely love where I am and what I am doing just now.

But it is a reflection about the world.

It was just over thirty years ago when I experienced the sense that I had misjudged the appropriateness of honesty.
I was head girl in my school and the MP David Mellor had come to speak to our sixth form.
He began to talk about the benefits of grammar schools and I challenged him, asking how he could possibly dare to do so while speaking in a comprehensive school.
The daughter of a Lithuanian peasant and working-class-boy-made-good who had both devoted their careers to teaching in comprehensive education could not hold back. This was much to the delight of my socialist/pacifist/revolutionary friends at school.
But the disappointment on the face of the headteacher and senior staff in the school and the feeling that I had somehow done something distasteful remain abiding memories of that day.

There is a time and a place to be honest.
As a school leader you have to be skilled in exercising selective honesty. I don’t think that this means compromising on values as long as you stay true to the fundamental value of ensuring that every child is happy, healthy and doing the best they can.

But it means knowing which battles to fight and when, knowing when to speak and when to be silent and knowing that sometimes sensitivity towards the feelings and beliefs of others must take priority over self-righteous impatience.

Sometimes you can’t afford to be too honest about the things that you can’t change.

But let’s also remember that we need to be honest about the word can’t.
Is it that we really can’t? Or simply that we don’t want to?
Because in all honesty, we need to do what is right and not what is easy.







Pedagoo Muckle at Levenmouth Academy⤴


Working in education is hard at the moment. A staffing crisis makes keeping schools open on a day-to-day basis quite a challenge. Constant changes to the curriculum and exam system leave teachers feeling as if the goalposts are constantly shifting. Austerity means that we teach a lot, have a relatively little planning and preparation time, and have to be super organised in order to be able to deliver the best we can.
It is sometimes difficult not to feel negative.
Yesterday I got up at 5 am, drove to Glasgow, and joined four other colleagues who I have connected with through Twitter to travel across to Fife for Pedagoo Muckle. I then spent the day with a group of teachers before returning and getting home at 8:30 pm. Although the issues mentioned above were touched upon during the day, because we had not travelled to cloud cuckoo land where the realities of day-to-day teaching do not exist, the day was overwhelmingly one of positivity, hope, humour, connection, and professional excitement.
It is clear what makes a Pedagoo Muckle day so fantastic. On the surface it is its simplicity; a group of educationalists ranging from headteachers to PGDE students getting together to talk about ideas that work with passion and commitment. But the simplicity is deceptive. Because the incredible hard work and attention to detail behind the scenes is far from simple. From the fact that the event is free, to the wonderful refreshments provided throughout the day, to the small but meaningful free gifts, to the incredible cartoons drawn by artist Dylan Gibson, to the creative and hugely well planned activities, to those taking photos and tweeting, to the children of the organisers roped in to make it a family affair, to the pupil from the host school Levenmouth Academy playing the guitar as we enter, to the welcoming, inclusive, encouraging, caring atmosphere that makes everybody in the room feel valued and loved…. all of this low-budget simplicity results in a phenomenally high-value experience that shows us that quality CPD is not about PowerPoints, highly paid speakers or corporate sponsors.
It is about a small group of committed and hardworking folk who have found a formula that works and repeated it, year after year, to enable teachers to fall back in love with what they do.
For that, those behind Pedagoo and Pedagoo Muckle deserve a huge thank you:
Feargal Kelly, Aileen Kelly, Ciara Gibson, Susan Ward, Lynne Jones and Sheena White.
Extra thanks in relation to yesterday’s Muckle must go to the staff and students of Levenmouth Academy who made the venue such a welcoming place and also to Gemma Sanderson and Jenny Harvey.
If you don’t know about Pedagoo, check out the information and video here:
The programme for yesterday was this:
I am sure that if you are interested in the Learning Conversations, you could contact the facilitators for the notes.
Several friends of mine were unable to make the event (Ish, Mandy, Joyce) and so below I share a few notes that I made about some parts of the day for them and anyone else who missed it.
The best thing to do if you weren’ t there, however, check out Lynne’s stority on twitter:
And if you can, make it your goal to hear David Cameron speak at some point soon. My notes below do not do justice to David’s passion, knowledge, and expertise. I have heard David speak many times now and what I find hugely inspiring is that he is always entertaining, thought-provoking and original and yet his key messages never change. Above all he knows that it is about:
I left Muckle feeling hugely inspired, re-assured and validated and with every one of expectations met.
Ciara’s welcome
What brings us to Fife?
 Fascination with learning and teaching.
Pedagoo is a community. Mainly online. Can sit in jammies with toast and connect with people around the world.
Twitter and the Pedagoo website are key parts.
Coming together for Teachmeets and Muckle events allow real-life connections.
Explore what you do with likeminded people.
Try things you are scared to do.
Unpick things.
Supportive peers.
May be lucky to have supportive peers in your own setting.
Why Muckle? Want it big.
Everything you do every day in your setting has real value.
Want to take Muckle on road after this.
Feargal on Scel
Framework and teacher leadership docs are here to take away.
What does leadership mean to you and what does leadership mean to you
Teachers lead learning day in day out.
Professional autonomy is crucial.
Teachers can make a difference
Joyful and tough
Collaboration is key.
Part of today is that we make a pledge to carry on the work of Pedagoo
 eg – organise a Teachmeet or a Weemeet.
Muckle TeachMeet
Sheena White
Shopping and eating are her passions
Inspired by Isobel Wallace “Pimp my lessons”
We big up our kids but not each other.
Poundland Pedagogy.
Combined love of shopping and Pedagogy.
Bought a lot of things and encouraged people to use them in lesson
Everyday items
 Objects on table…. pick one think about how you might use it in a lesson.
Mr Ross HT at Levenmouth
Pupil voice
5 a day- see 5 pupils and ask what is going well with learning
New school.
Find a way of sharing with staff
No naming- respectful
 Short report to staff – anonymous
Andrew Bailey
Retrieval activity
N5 and higher
5 questions from previously- 2 from last lesson and 3 from before
Enjoying it
May take 15 minsof a 50 min lesson but is valuable


Lovely NQT

S1s needing help with focus.
Blurt beans.
If they follow rules they get a butter bean and tub- certain number = treat
Eg listen to music, watch movie.
Ewan Nicholl
Primary 5
Mindset approach- assess accordingly
Post-it’s useful – they feed back to him – eg “Mr Nicholl needs to explain it better”
Feedback from them has really changed things
Getting them to think about their learning and his teaching has been transformational
They write “I can’t do it….yet”
Rebekah Hutton
Plenaries on a plate tool – ppts
Mike Gershon- really good website.
Really good resources in one place
Amy Henderson
Girls in school who were hard to engage.
 Table tennis club after school for three years has really moved things on and they come to her for help
Hard in winter when you just want to go home and eat but worth it.
 Bridges built
Michael Smith
1 week in – great school
4 yrs in sciencecentre
Sharing week:
Division- dice out
Inclusion – if you are going to de clutter for all pupils, de-clutter for all.
Karen Macallister
Session on how we can make homework work better.
When pupils are doing work
(Kirsty Turner from Manchester)
If they get the wrong answer – find the mistakes.
Elizabeth Gowans
Came last year and did not get to speak.. a bit disappointed.
Speaking to pupil yesterday re fear- him of singing and her of speaking.
Will be able to share how it went with him next week.
Last year pledged to connect after the event and did it.
This year- needs to have a weemeet with staff and team.
Fran Whitmore
Teaches EAL English and lit – itinerant.
Outdoor learning to help with language.
20p gliders from chemist. Really useful prop.
Fly them in playground and encourage positional language – up, over, down…
Noisy, confidence building
Ronan Docherty
If you do not revise you shall not pass!
Dunfermline high school NQT
We get pupils to collaborate but don’t always do it ourselves
Do not see each other for days!!
Microsoft teams as professional learning community
Eg sharing date
Linda Bell
Large primary in East Ren
Last year pledged to hold a teachmeet.
Ripple effect.
Had a teachmeet.
High levels of expressed emotion and fear.
NQTs and young staff ok- others less so.
Really positive- lots of learning and connections
Why do older colleagues lack confidence?
Dread learning visits by SLT twice a year – have been more about performance rather than learning.
Has trialled lesson study instead.
Forbes Maginnes
DHT at Levenmouth
Mini teach meet
Learning walk
Pieces of paper prepared for in service day.
 Made people talk and share learning
Try and do different things.
Be brave, be bold, be creative
Much to my horror, a video was made of my contribution which you can see here (thanks to Jenny):
The point of this exercise is that when we want to teach children about behaviour it can sometimes be difficult; in my experience the easiest way is to put them in a role where they demonstrate the behaviour we desire and then praise, praise, praise. It is amazing how children who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences and whom we may see as ‘challenging’, ‘fidgety’ or ‘disruptive’ suddenly act with self-control, maturity and respect when we treat them as we would a highly-skilled professional.
I think Paul Dix, author of the amazing book ‘When The Adults Change, Everything Changes’ might agree.
It is at least 23 years since I first started playing 0006 at a South London comprehensive school. As David Cameron says, sometimes we don’t need new things, just to make them better. (When I play her again tomorrow, the ‘better’ will be that I talk about ‘watching like ‘a’ hawk, not hawks. The nerves I felt in front of the Teachmeet group far exceeded any I usually feel in front of a class!)
David Cameron
Why the flip do we not make things work?
Regional collaborative or changing governance means nothing to @chriskilkenny.
Addiction to doing something new instead of doing things better.
We do not need an attainment challenge.
We are here on a Saturday.
We need to talk about what works and how we do that. @pedagoo does that.
If we don’t have time, we don’t have time to waste.
Legacy is key
Translate what works.
Hattie and Logan slides on difference between rhetoric and reality in schools -nonsense
The rhetoric is at the top, not in schools.
Not about the soloists but the choir.
The voices we sing with, not the voices we listen to.
Visible learning is about ‘so what’ – find it and work back from it.
What makes a difference in outcomes is what happens when educators and young people come together. So what? must be the driver.
Reflection is crucial.
Humility is key.
Moderators in Pedagoo stand behind it not in front of it. Not about them.
We are here on Saturday because we know we can make a difference to young people. Otherwise their potential is to fail.
Need to redefine potential.
Levenmouth is a community with challenges – check out the police twitter feed.
But the staff and pupils here are ambitious
Ambition, courage are needed.
Commitment to idealism and willingness to believe in more.
Forget initiatives.
What we need is to learn from Practice.
Why not for real?
Need to build coalitions of success (Hattie)
Not improvement through change but through engagement
Being with us makes despair impossible and hope inevitable.

On a Saturday? You’re Mad.⤴


“You’re mad.”
“On a Saturday?”

Another one of those Fridays where I mentioned that I was getting up early to drive and watch an inspirational lecture.

This was last year:

The songs on radio 1 that inspired me on my drive yesterday included this:


And this:

Just by Loch Lomond I also turned over the Radio 4 and heard Gove’s Weinstein comment. I almost pulled over to tweet my rage but was glad I didn’t, as the traffic then snarled up around Dumbarton and nearly made me late.

And so to Ardrossan to watch the film Resilience and hear Suzanne Zeedyk and David Cameron.

As usual, I am using my blog to record some notes and sound bites from what I heard and experienced.
If you were not able to make it, these notes may give you a flavour and encourage you to find out more. But I write and encourage you to read with the proviso that others in the room may have heard things differently.
The event started with an introduction from Suzanne Zeedyk and David Cameron.

Suzanne – her team have been working for some time to bring awareness around Adverse Childhood Experiences to the UK. The team is her, Tina Hendry, Pete on the door and Brett on the camera.

This summer their work has involved bringing the film Resilience to Scotland after it was shown down in London.

There were 25 screenings over the summer.
25000 people saw it.

By Dec this may be 10000 people.

It has had huge impact.
Vincent Felitti from the film was here in Scotland 10 years ago – but there was no revolution then. Why now?

Now we are seeing a revolution in kindness to children.

Production team in US feel that something different has happened in Scotland and want to know the strategy.

“2 crazy women with no money.”

Revolution happens because individuals want it to happen.

There is an interest in this from the govt; there is an ace website

ACES feature in the govt Nation with Ambition document- pages 71 and 73.

Lots of our communities have adults and children who have been damaged by trauma.
But there are still situations where schools make it worse for children
and some social work systems do.
How do we have more awareness and kindness?

“Only doing this cause he wanted to be in Ardrossan on a Saturday and see a movie.”

We have raised awareness but not made a difference.
Still the same for most of us.

Danger is that SG focus is now raising attainment and social mobility – these are the new “initiatives” that we will try and paint on the wall before we properly embed GIRFEC and CfE and trauma-informed practice and allow the paint of those important systems to dry.

Painting on wet paint,

Getting 5 highers and going to uni is not all there is. Leaving Ayrshire is not all there is.
Need to get it right for ALL kids.

Need to take control and do what we can where we are.

David wants us to walk in in the morning and say “that’s brilliant” and mean it.
“Campaign for brilliant”

Us being here in a Saturday will change this.

Suzanne agrees- needs to be grassroots.

Investment in the denial of the impact of trauma is so high.

We need to address people not wanting to talk about it.

We then watched the amazing, moving, life-affirming film Resilience. YOU NEED TO SEE THIS FILM IF YOU HAVE NOT AND YOU CARE ABOUT CHILDREN. (I’m not shouting but I am stating this emphatically.)

The film features a number of child specialists, paediatricians and medical professionals from the USA who have, over the last 20 years or so, been working in a way that is attachment and trauma informed and recognises the impact of adverse childhood experiences on both mental and physical health.

Robert Anda MD talks about the fact that this information needs to get to everyone not just the smart people. Vincent Felitti explains how when he first started talking about trauma informed practice and adverse childhood experiences he was called crazy by his colleagues.
The film shows how the two men had initially been working on different projects in different parts of the countries before they came together to realise that their conclusions were parallel.
Some of the work came from discoveries in an obesity clinic where the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse amongst those with obesity was striking.

Both men had worked on small studies on the impact of adversity childhood experiences but realised that the study needed to go bigger.

A study was then carried out between 1995 and 1997 amongst 17,000 middle-class adults. They completed a survey on their health but also answered on questions around separation, divorce, parenting, aggression and abuse. Out of this there then came a list of 10 adverse childhood experiences around which the research continued:

Prior to your 18th birthday:
1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured No___If Yes, enter 1 __
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you No___If Yes, enter 1 __
4. Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other No___If Yes, enter 1 __
5. Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it No___If Yes, enter 1 __
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced No___If Yes, enter 1 __
7. Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife No___If Yes, enter 1 __
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs No___If Yes, enter 1 __
9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?  No___If Yes, enter 1 __
10. Did a household member go to prison? No___If Yes, enter 1 __

The results of the surveys were shocking:
28% of those surveyed had suffered physical abuse, 27% had experienced substance abuse, 13% had witnessed her mother being hurt, and one in five had experienced sexual abuse.
And the direct correlation between the ACES experienced and physical symptoms such as heart disease, strokes, addiction, depression, suicide and even cancer was striking.

The findings caused a huge amount of shock as previously researchers had had no idea about how much abuse there are is in our communities. The conclusions also found that with ACE score of 4 out of 10, participants were three times as likely to have experienced depression. Initially Robert Anda was faced with disbelief and was told he must have done something wrong in his investigations. However they went back through the research and the statistics and realised that there was nothing wrong. Anda stated “this is real but no one wants to know about it.”

10 years after the initial case study Dr Nadine Burke Harris was working in clinics with children in San Francisco. She became aware in the work that she was doing that adverse childhood experiences were absolutely crucial to child development, child health and adult health. She explains that she had never trained in any of this during medical school but it was obvious to her in her practice about the impact of ACES on child and later adult physical health. She discovered that in poor communities the average life expectancy was 67 as opposed to it being 78 in more wealthy communities. The key factors in the poorer communities that led to increased heart disease, obesity, depression, suicide, cancers, strokes and early death were:
mental health issues, violence, the death of friends and drug and substance abuse.
In 2007 she found out about the ACES study and found that it gave her total validation of what she was saying in the community she was working.
She realised first and foremost that one of the key things in tackling the impact of adverse childhood experiences is to be honest about the situation: children need to be told that hearing gunshots and seeing your friends incarcerated on a daily basis has an impact on your life and your feelings And that these things are not okay. She explained that in her practice lots of parents were coming and asking for help with ADHD and problem behaviours. However when she looked she realised that the behaviours were not caused by ADHD but rather by trauma. Symptoms such as impulse control and hyper activity can be just as much of a symptom of trauma as ADHD. She explained that there is a real danger in giving a traumatised child a stimulant, as it will not help. She went on to explain the power of brain scans in this work as they show quite clearly the neurological changes that are caused when children experience trauma.
With a score of four or more ACES of child is 32 times likely to have behavioural problems. Which ACES a child has experienced is irrelevant.

Vincent Felitti goes on to say “we divide the world of mental health and physical health but the body does not do that.”

ACE screening has now become an important part of child health care in many parts of America. There was acknowledgement that it is not easy work to do as it requires people to be open and honest about to traumatic events that have happened to them and their children.

The film also talks about the concept of toxic stress. There is an explanation of the fact that some stress in our lives is necessary, for example we need a bit of stress when crossing the road so that we act quickly and alertly. However exposure to early trauma effect affects the structure of children’s brains and means that they live in a state of high undifferentiated stress at all times. which leads to poor mental and physical ill-health.

Dr Burke Harris goes on to say that you can give people things to mask symptoms for example if someone has a cough you can give them cough serum which will suppress the cough but may also mask tuberculosis or cancer while the disease process continues to fester. The same is true with adverse childhood experiences.

Jack P Shonkoff MD speaks about the fact that children who are born with a poor start in life are not doomed. The science shows otherwise. He speaks about the term toxic stress stress which is the chronic activation a stress reaction with no support to manage that stress.

He talked about the fact in school we often say that children with toxic stress should just suck it up and be like the successful kids. He points out however that the baby can’t just pull itself up by its bootee straps and suck it up. We would never say to a cancer patient that they need to suck it up and we should not do the same with children who have experienced trauma.

Resilience (the ability to survive and thrive in spite of trauma) is learnt but you cannot learn it if you are living in a culture of fear. A child cannot learn conflict resolution if his parents are constantly fighting.
A child cannot plan for the future if she lives in a culture of fear where the future seems frightening. A child cannot learn to delay gratification if she is constantly mixing with friends who do drugs. The key to learning resilience is the presence of stable and caring adults. In order for adults to be caring and stable they need to acknowledge their own early experiences and transform their own lives. Adults need to build their own capabilities in planning, monitoring, and impulse control. This is about more than just reading to kids.

It is absolutely crucial that we treat the family rather than just the child and help the family to learn successful strategies. And there are lots of really good programs out there. There is a need to break the cycle of adverse childhood experiences and the impact of trauma. The importance of visiting families in their own homes cannot be underestimated. It makes the families feel as if they matter. We all need to consider the impact of our early experiences if we work with children. There is always a reason why we do what we do in the here and now.
The question has to be why are we waiting. Adults often do not recognise that kids have stressed because they do not seem as important or big as adults stresses like having to pay the mortgage or support the family. But this work shows that small stresses matter and do have impact on children. If children act out there is a reason but often children do not have the skills or vocabulary to manage the stress.

The film shows an incredible primary teacher at work in a school using the legend of Miss Kendra. This is a story which enables children to talk about the adverse childhood experiences that they may be experiencing. Miss Kendra’s list is a list of affirmations that children repeat on a daily basis so that they are able to use the right vocabulary when they need to. They repeat phrases such as “no child should be punched or kicked” “no child should be touched on their private parts”. Lots of children think what they are going through is normal but the mantra helps them to understand that it is not. The children regularly write a letter to Miss Kendra where they can talk about things that they may be experiencing. These are then answered by a drama therapist. Studies have found that this type of work is most effective when done with pupils in their third year of primary school. Naming the scary thing helps us feel safer. The teachers then spend less time managing scary feelings and more time on teaching.
The film also looks at schools which adopt a so-called no excuses policy. This takes the approach that teachers say “yes you may be being beaten but it is not an excuse to do badly at school”. It is based on an idea that we are trying to ensure the same standards of achievement for all children and be aspirational…But it will not work unless we deal with the causes of trauma as well as acknowledging them. It is not enough to say “yes I understand your situation”; we also have to address the situation. The only effective approach is not to use things as an excuse but to deal with them. To talk, to act and to help children develop resilience.

Toxic stress is a neurological issue,
it is an endochrinal problem, it is a problem of chronic inflammation in the brain and it is a problem that we can address and deal with. We need universal screening for ACES. We need to reduce experience of adversity. As Nadine Burke Harris says, if a child has lead poisoning we reduce the amount of lead. If a child is experiencing trauma, we need to reduce the amount of trauma.
We need to ensure that there is strong parental buffering and we need to help parents to find their natural strengths as parents and build on them. All parents want the best for their children. The answers include mindfulness, meditation, therapy, good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and education. Parents need to understand all of this.

It’s crucial that those involved with the children are trauma informed. We should not talk about what is wrong with children. We should talk about what has happened to children.
Getting adults who work with children to do a screening is very important.
The highest ACE scores ever were in an audience of psychotherapists!

We are the sum of everything that we have lived.

In 2000, Laura Porter, Senior Director of The Learning Institute at the Foundation for Healthy Generations, invited Robert Anda to her community in Washington. She was a very impatient person and wanted to change things straight away. She worked for 10 years on a trauma informed model. Policies and practices were all changed and it had a huge impact on youth crime suicide incarceration and health. And it also saved a huge amount of money on health care.

“You can lead a horse to water and not make him drink but you can make him thirsty”.

As a community of individuals we can change the world.
Following the film, Suzanne and David spoke further and facilitated discussion around how educational leaders can bring about change in their settings to allow the culture to change.
Suzanne shared examples of schools and groups who have been successful in bringing about changes.

If we close the attachment gap we will change the attainment gap.
Voices of Chris Kilkenny and Jaz Ampaw Farr are very important.

Don’t let ourselves be defined by our worst moment.

The alternative to hope is despair.

We need action.
We need to focus on and develop what we do well. We need family care not child care.
There is a new breed of school leaders.
The more we label things, the more we get away from connection

We have a curriculum that allows us to do better, even in secondary.

We need to be confident.
Use the breakable plates graph:

Put the things you do on post it’s. Then put them on the graph. See what you can do less of because it does not have impact.

Lots of the things we do in secondary schools are about habit and not structures.

How people make you feel make the difference.

Often when we need to change practice we do not ask the right questions
Eg exam analysis-
We look at what was rubbish for kids last year, try and apply it to different kids this year… and wonder when people get annoyed when we focus on the negative.

We need to give children opportunities to achieve success. Look for the gifts in the child – Amjad Ali.
Give them open tasks and allow them to surprise us.

Allow kids to rehearse and redraft- failure is only temporary

What conversations do we need to have?

We need to train early years staff and pay them better. We need training on brain science absolutely attachment.

Children 1st has a kitbag – like Miss Kendra’s list. It is very good. We can get them to bring it to us.

Those on Suzanne’s list are not experts but they gave it a shot.

We should do mindfulness and yoga every day but we don’t and this does harm.

The impact of teacher behaviour on a pupil and the ability of a teacher to cause trauma cannot be under-estimated.


Voices from the floor spoke of the following:
The need to be human
The need to value families
The importance of relationships and connection.


And although I was nervous and incredibly stressed and feeling like an imposter and hardly able to do it, I took the microphone and heard my own voice. And it said:

– Too many in secondary schools still want discipline, compliance and children who “know how to behave”.
– My blog is full of thoughts on how we can change things and reflections on why change is hard.
– We cannot allow the fact that the revolution has taken a while to stop us keeping on with this work.
– Some teachers may feel that they are not qualified to do this work as they are not therapists But this is not about therapy. It is about life. It is about us adults being honest about the ups and down of life but showing up and being role models. It is about the assembly I gave yesterday:
– And no matter how jaded we feel, we can’t give up.

Thanks Suzanne. You are astonishing.
Thanks David. You are amazing. And your commitment to yoga is exemplary.
Thanks to the makers of Resilience.
Thanks to all those in the room who get it and showed that by being there.

We need to keep going.




My assembly from this Friday to my S3 and S4 pupils.


Today we are going consider the second of our school values, that of Fairness.

I often hear people declaring that “it’s not fair” when they are disappointed or frustrated or feeling resentful about something that has happened.

But one of things we have to accept as we grow into adults is that life is not always fair.

I know from the feedback you gave recently that some of you feel it’s not fair that learning is interrupted for some of you because of the disruptive behaviour of others. And that is probably a fair thing to say.


It’s not fair that some children are born into abject poverty in the third world when others seem to have it all.


But it’s also not fair that Prince George’s dad lost his mum at an early age and had to grieve for her in front of the world.

It’s not fair that children in our country are subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse on a daily basis. These things can cause people to suffer for the rest of their lives if we don’t talk about them.


It’s not fair that Laura Macintyre from Barra went to an Ariana Grande concert and was injured in a  bomb attack. But it is amazing that she has gone back to school this week.

It’s not fair that her friend Eilidh Macleod did not go back to school because she was killed in the same attack.

It’s not fair that some of us are born with brains that worry or stress or think differently to those of other people and that some of us experience poor mental or physical health.

Life, by its nature, is sometimes unfair. We are not robots made in the same mould and in the same factory and of course this is what makes us unique and wonderful and interesting.

But it also means that life presents different opportunities and challenges for all of us.

As humans, we try as hard as we can to make life fairer. There are some unfair things that we can change:

Maybe by giving money to charity.

Maybe by taking action and speaking out when we see people in our community being treated with disrespect or hatred.

Maybe in school as teachers by finding out about who you are as individuals and making sure you get extra help if you need it. It is not about treating you all in the same way but about treating you in a way that meets your individual needs. Sometimes that might not seem to make sense to you as you may have grown up thinking that equality is about treating everybody in the same way.

But I find that talking about equity is more helpful talking about equality and this picture can help us to understand what that means. All of these people have a right to watch what’s over the fence. Because of their differences some of them have barriers that get in the way. What we need to do is make sure that each one of them is given the assistance …or a box.. in order to be able to see and to have the same opportunity as others.
Sometimes the fairest thing can be to treat everybody differently.

Sometimes it may seem to you as if things that I do are not fair. “She lets him or her get away with things that she would not let other people get away with…..” I hear you cry.
But you can trust me that there will be times when my unfairness is part of making life fairer. Because there are things that you may not know about that mean that some people in this school need to have a box or a different approach in order to be able to have the same opportunities as others.

Sometimes though, you can … and do…help me see when things aren’t fair for no good reason and could be different and I listen to you and learn from that. Your voices are so important to me.

Hopefully you can see that life sometimes is not 100% fair, even when we try to make things as fair as we possibly can.

If you are someone who often sees the unfair in life more than the fair, it might be helpful for you to try and shift your thinking a little bit.


Now I have to be honest and confess I am probably somebody whose brain likes to focus on the unfair more than the fair in life. If I am asked whether I see the glass as half full or half empty, I tend to be a half empty type of person. If we look at the story of Winnie the Pooh and the characters in it, I guess I’m more of an Eeyore than a Tigger.

I have spent time trying to work out why this is and I have found out that it’s probably to do with some of the things that happened to me my childhood. But I’ve also tried very hard to change this way of thinking and to make my brain focus first on the positives and the fairness in life, rather than the opposite.

A really helpful way of doing this is to use a technique from the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that many people have found useful in helping them to become more in control of their thoughts and their lives and to give them more of a sense of contentment with the world.

There are lots of parts to mindfulness and some involve physical techniques. For example as I came up to do this assembly and my mind was feeling anxious and nervous and stressed, worrying about what I was going to say, I focused on putting my feet flat on the ground and taking some deep breaths. It helped.

But another really useful tool is to find three positive things about your life that you focus on every morning when you wake up. This means that before your negative brain can start shouting about the unfair things in life….like the rain and all the things you have to do, or the fact you have no want to go to school disco with… get in there with three positive things that set your frame of mind for the day.

You know but I’m very enthusiastic about brain science and what’s great about mindfulness is that neuroscientists have proven that it makes a difference. They have found that people who do mindfulness and remember three positive things each morning, gradually begin to feel more positive in themselves. Mindfulness can help you shift a bit more towards being a glass half empty person to being a glass half full person.

So here are my three positives from this morning:
1. Living in beautiful Argyll and having the most fantastic drive to work, watching the colours and the mist hanging over the fields and celebrating the fact that it wasn’t raining.
2. Having the technology to connect with my dad every day. You will know that he has cancer and lives very far away and that my first thought after his diagnosis was that I was going to have to move back down to live near him. But the ability to text or phone or FaceTime him every day means that I feel connected to him in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to 20 years ago.
3. Working with amazing young people every day (yes, you) who all have something to teach me.

Life will not always be fair.
But we can work together to fight unfairness whenever possible and to focus on the best in life and on sharing that best with others.