Author Archives: Robert Jones

Some Thoughts about Skills-Based Curricula⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

I hear a lot of talk about skills-based curricula in Scotland these days, with the general vibe being that skills-based curricula are a Good Thing™. I'm not entirely clear what people mean by a skills-based curriculum, because it is one of those phrases which has slipped into the common parlance of educators without any clear definition (see also "learner conversations"). Try searching on the Education Scotland website for "skill based curriculum" and you'll draw a blank. I guess it means a curriculum defined in terms of the competencies being developed by our learners: a curriculum defined in terms of the things we want our learners to be able to do, rather than what they know.

I can see the appeal of this, but I am wary. Here are a couple of things which would worry me if they were true:

1.  Is this curriculum seeking to develop generic, transferable skills?

If so, we really need to distinguish between actual skills which are applicable in a range of contexts (such as being able to speak clearly, spell accurately, read well, be punctual, perform arithmetic, understand basic statistics etc.) and so-called "generic transferable skills" such a problem solving, critical thinking or creativity. The former are vital and should rightly be prioritised in a curriculum. The latter don't exist outwith specific domains of knowledge. If you are surprised to hear that, read this.

2. Does this curriculum prioritise skills development above the building of long-term knowledge?

If so, it fails to recognise that "in every domain that has been explored, considerable knowledge has been found to be an essential prerequisite to expert skill"? ("Expert and Novice Performance in Solving Physics Problems" -- Larkin, McDermott, Simon and Simon -- 1979-1980). Skills such as problem solving, creativity and critical thinking do, of course, exist. But they are developed by individuals within specific domains of knowledge, and rely upon the development of a considerable body of knowledge within that domain. It is nonsense to imagine that the expert problem solving skills I have developed within the domain of mathematics will in any way equip me to be a good problem solver in the world of graphic design, say. This article by Daniel Willingham looks at the challenges of teaching critical skills. If the curriculum recognises the importance of knowledge acquisition, focuses on that and then proceeds to provide learners with opportunities to apply their knowledge meaningfully, then it has a good chance of genuinely developing skills.

I am all in favour of a curriculum which focuses on the things learners end up being able to do, but such a curriculum must recognise that the principal means of increasing skill is to increase domain-specific knowledge. It is interesting to note that this message is entirely commonplace and mainstream in England, but is rarely voiced in Scotland.

Much of the work in Scotland on skills development is entirely rational and worthwhile. Take this example from Castlebrae, for example. The programme clearly understands that skills exist within domains of knowledge, and seeks to clarify what these important skills are, so that teachers can provide opportunities to develop them. The cross-curricular skills it identifies relate to literacy, numeracy and health-and-wellbeing. These all fall into the "former" category I identified earlier.

But schools only have 27.5 hours per week. Time spent on try to develop skills such as critical thinking in the abstract rather than within a specific domain of knowledge is time wasted, and there is no time to waste.

Knowing and Understanding in Mathematics⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

In order to investigate the current debate about knowing and understanding sparked by David Didau's post, I want to examine one small part of mathematics, which I happen to be teaching to a Higher maths class at the moment: finding the point which divides a line segment in a given ratio.

One way to approach this is to teach a formula:

The position vector of P, where P divides AB in the ratio m:n, is given by p=(na+mb)/(m+n)

If you know
  • how to convert a position vector to a coordinate
  • the convention that capital letters represents points and bold lower case letters represent corresponding position vectors
  • how to multiply or divide a vector by a scalar
  • how to add vectors together
then can probably now solve a problem such as:

Given that the point P divides S(3,4,-1) and T(5,8,11) in the ratio 3:1, find P.

At this point, a student knows how to find a point which divides a line segment in a given ratio. They may have no idea why this rule works. They may have no idea what a position vector is. They may have no idea what a ratio is. They may have no idea about the 3D coordinate system. Do they understand the rule?

In maths, it seems to me, knowing means being able to recall a particular mathematical result, such as the formula given above. Understanding means grasping to some extent the chain of previously established facts and causal links which lead to the given mathematical result being true. In this sense, knowing and understanding are different in maths.

You might say the "understanding" I describe is just more knowing. I disagree, because there is a categorical difference between knowing a particular fact, or set of facts, and understanding why that fact is true. The litmus test, for me, is that anyone could remember the formula given above. Most people could be trained to apply the rule to solve problems using the formula, provided the problems were stated in a fairly standard way. Only those who have already mastered a sufficient body of knowledge and understanding in maths would be capable of understanding what the formula is actually about, and why it works.

I suppose I am saying that understanding is about the connectedness of one's knowing. Maths is a domain in which this distinction is particularly evident, because it is relatively easy to learn a fact which has no connection to anything else you know. For example:
A Hermitian manifold is a complex manifold with a smoothly varying Hermitian inner product on each (holomorphic) tangent space.
I could memorise that, and regurgitate it. I have no idea what any of the mathematical words in the definition mean, apart from "complex" and a very vague recognition of "manifold". I don't understand this definition because it does not connect to anything else I already know (and understand through connections to other knowledge) in maths.

Knowing and Understanding in Mathematics⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

In order to investigate the current debate about knowing and understanding sparked by David Didau's post, I want to examine one small part of mathematics, which I happen to be teaching to a Higher maths class at the moment: finding the point which divides a line segment in a given ratio.

One way to approach this is to teach a formula:

The position vector of P, where P divides AB in the ratio m:n, is given by p=(na+mb)/(m+n)

If you know
  • how to convert a position vector to a coordinate
  • the convention that capital letters represents points and bold lower case letters represent corresponding position vectors
  • how to multiply or divide a vector by a scalar
  • how to add vectors together
then can probably now solve a problem such as:

Given that the point P divides S(3,4,-1) and T(5,8,11) in the ratio 3:1, find P.

At this point, a student knows how to find a point which divides a line segment in a given ratio. They may have no idea why this rule works. They may have no idea what a position vector is. They may have no idea what a ratio is. They may have no idea about the 3D coordinate system. Do they understand the rule?

In maths, it seems to me, knowing means being able to recall a particular mathematical result, such as the formula given above. Understanding means grasping to some extent the chain of previously established facts and causal links which lead to the given mathematical result being true. In this sense, knowing and understanding are different in maths.

You might say the "understanding" I describe is just more knowing. I disagree, because there is a categorical difference between knowing a particular fact, or set of facts, and understanding why that fact is true. The litmus test, for me, is that anyone could remember the formula given above. Most people could be trained to apply the rule to solve problems using the formula, provided the problems were stated in a fairly standard way. Only those who have already mastered a sufficient body of knowledge and understanding in maths would be capable of understanding what the formula is actually about, and why it works.

I suppose I am saying that understanding is about the connectedness of one's knowing. Maths is a domain in which this distinction is particularly evident, because it is relatively easy to learn a fact which has no connection to anything else you know. For example:
A Hermitian manifold is a complex manifold with a smoothly varying Hermitian inner product on each (holomorphic) tangent space.
I could memorise that, and regurgitate it. I have no idea what any of the mathematical words in the definition mean, apart from "complex" and a very vague recognition of "manifold". I don't understand this definition because it does not connect to anything else I already know (and understand through connections to other knowledge) in maths.

The Scottish Curriculum: A Beginner’s Guide⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

There is no universally agreed meaning for the term "curriculum" as applied to the education of children and young people. In academic circles it is a highly contested concept, and covers everything experienced by children and young people, within or without formal education. To an average parent, I guess it means "the stuff schools are going to teach children and young people". From this perspective, Scotland has no national curriculum. Scotland has no national framework which spells out explicitly what knowledge schools should teach children and young people. We used to have one, called 5-14, but it was decided that this was too prescriptive.

Instead, the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence has a series of statements called the Experiences and Outcomes, which make vague, implicit references to the knowledge we expect young people to acquire, wrapped up in highly general statements about what we expect young people to be able to do, and what we expect them to experience. The general vibe in our curriculum is that specific facts are unimportant - temporary stepping-stones to be skipped over on the way to developing generic transferable skills such as "creativity" and "problem solving". The curriculum is blind to the widely recognised fact that such generic, transferable skills do not exist.

Here is an example, from the Social Studies E&Os:
I can explain why a group of people from beyond Scotland settled here in the past and discuss the impact they have had on the life and culture of Scotland. [SOC 3-03a]
When teachers across Scotland first saw these E&Os they were, of course, aghast, and began creating local "schemes of work" or "progression frameworks" which did actually spell out what they were going to teach. In some areas, this work - the work of actually creating a curriculum - was undertaken at a local authority level, whereas in others it was left to individual schools, departments and even teachers.

As far as I am aware, no work has ever been undertaken nationally to audit these local curricula. No one knows the extent to which pupils across Scotland are being taught the same or different things.

Thankfully, some sanity was restored when it came to the creation of the new qualifications (the Nationals and rewritten Highers) which pupils sit from the age of 16. These eventually spelled out content, albeit somewhat sparsely and grudgingly amongst the pages of talk about the development of higher-order thinking skills:

Teachers were then able to refine the curricula they had created for younger pupils, by working backwards from these somewhat-clarified endpoints. The sparse nature of the content documentation explains why it is considered so valuable for Scottish teachers to become exam markers - they are then privy to more detailed discussions about exactly what constitutes assessable knowledge, what constitutes a valid explanation etc. The rest of us have to reverse engineer this detailed information from the published marking schemes of past papers.

Latterly, John Swinney, the Education Minister, has attempted to streamline Scottish Curriculum documentation by the creation of "Benchmarks". These are supposed to be more explicit and useful than the E&Os. Judge for yourself - here are the relevant benchmarks relating to the Social Studies E&O above:
  • Provides at least two simple explanations as to why a group of people from beyond Scotland settled here 
  • Describes at least two impacts immigrants have had on life and culture of Scotland.
To describe this approach as problematic would be charitable. We are still left wondering which immigrants, which explanations and which impacts we should teach. Our "curriculum" is mute.

With the publication of the benchmarks, the politicians now seem to feel our curriculum is fixed, and we are moving on to a major reorganisation of governance structures for schools. We are fiddling while Rome burns.

The Scottish Curriculum: A Beginner’s Guide⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

There is no universally agreed meaning for the term "curriculum" as applied to the education of children and young people. In academic circles it is a highly contested concept, and covers everything experienced by children and young people, within or without formal education. To an average parent, I guess it means "the stuff schools are going to teach children and young people". From this perspective, Scotland has no national curriculum. Scotland has no national framework which spells out explicitly what knowledge schools should teach children and young people. We used to have one, called 5-14, but it was decided that this was too prescriptive.

Instead, the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence has a series of statements called the Experiences and Outcomes, which make vague, implicit references to the knowledge we expect young people to acquire, wrapped up in highly general statements about what we expect young people to be able to do, and what we expect them to experience. The general vibe in our curriculum is that specific facts are unimportant - temporary stepping-stones to be skipped over on the way to developing generic transferable skills such as "creativity" and "problem solving". The curriculum is blind to the widely recognised fact that such generic, transferable skills do not exist.

Here is an example, from the Social Studies E&Os:
I can explain why a group of people from beyond Scotland settled here in the past and discuss the impact they have had on the life and culture of Scotland. [SOC 3-03a]
When teachers across Scotland first saw these E&Os they were, of course, aghast, and began creating local "schemes of work" or "progression frameworks" which did actually spell out what they were going to teach. In some areas, this work - the work of actually creating a curriculum - was undertaken at a local authority level, whereas in others it was left to individual schools, departments and even teachers.

As far as I am aware, no work has ever been undertaken nationally to audit these local curricula. No one knows the extent to which pupils across Scotland are being taught the same or different things.

Thankfully, some sanity was restored when it came to the creation of the new qualifications (the Nationals and rewritten Highers) which pupils sit from the age of 16. These eventually spelled out content, albeit somewhat sparsely and grudgingly amongst the pages of talk about the development of higher-order thinking skills:

Teachers were then able to refine the curricula they had created for younger pupils, by working backwards from these somewhat-clarified endpoints. The sparse nature of the content documentation explains why it is considered so valuable for Scottish teachers to become exam markers - they are then privy to more detailed discussions about exactly what constitutes assessable knowledge, what constitutes a valid explanation etc. The rest of us have to reverse engineer this detailed information from the published marking schemes of past papers.

Latterly, John Swinney, the Education Minister, has attempted to streamline Scottish Curriculum documentation by the creation of "Benchmarks". These are supposed to be more explicit and useful than the E&Os. Judge for yourself - here are the relevant benchmarks relating to the Social Studies E&O above:
  • Provides at least two simple explanations as to why a group of people from beyond Scotland settled here 
  • Describes at least two impacts immigrants have had on life and culture of Scotland.
To describe this approach as problematic would be charitable. We are still left wondering which immigrants, which explanations and which impacts we should teach. Our "curriculum" is mute.

With the publication of the benchmarks, the politicians now seem to feel our curriculum is fixed, and we are moving on to a major reorganisation of governance structures for schools. We are fiddling while Rome burns.

Assessment Through The Looking Glass⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

The old 5-14 assessments used to give robust, consistent answers to specific questions. The questions were of the form "what percentage of P7 students have managed to score at least 15 marks in one of a specific set of nationally generated assessment instruments". We thought that the questions were of the form "what percentage of P7 students have passed level D mathematics", but of course that isn't what we were measuring. We were measuring performance in tests. The mistaking of test performance for evidence of "passing a level" was bad, but we were right in thinking that we compared like with like as we looked at performance data from across Scotland.

Now we have abandoned national tests, and have moved towards measuring "passing a level" based on a combination of a rich bundle of assessments and teacher professional judgement. But what does it actually mean to have passed level 3 in numeracy? CfE documentation talks about assessing breadth of learning, level of challenge and ability to apply learning in unfamiliar contexts. But just how broad? How much challenge? How unfamiliar? None of these things are made clear (nor could they be), but this problem is supposedly addressed by the magic bullet "moderation". But moderation is not a magic bullet. No amount of moderation will allow us to reach a consensus on where the fundamentally vague boundary between levels lies, let alone how we can measure which side of the boundary any student sits at any given time. England stopped reporting on levels for good reason. You can read the report from the Commission on Assessment without Levels (published in September 2015) here. It says

Despite being intended only for use in statutory national assessments, too frequently levels also came to be used for in-school assessment between key stages in order to monitor whether pupils were on track to achieve expected levels at the end of key stages. This distorted the purpose of in-school assessment, particularly day-to-day formative assessment. The Commission believes that this has had a profoundly negative impact on teaching... Levels also used a ‘best fit’ model, which meant that a pupil could have serious gaps in their knowledge and understanding, but still be placed within the level. This meant it wasn’t always clear exactly which areas of the curriculum the child was secure in and where the gaps were. 

And yet we persist, and find ourselves in the Alice-in-Wonderland situation where schools are expected to provide data to the Government on the levels achieved by students in Reading, Writing, Listening-and-Talking and Numeracy, with this data being robust enough to allow us to measure progress over time. 

Of course we know where this is heading. Standardised tests are coming, and these will be used to determine the level achieved by pupils. The rhetoric is that we will use a combination of "teacher professional judgement" and the results of the tests. But it is categorically impossible for the former to generate anything resembling robust or consistent data. And so, over time, we will quietly drop the teacher judgement element and return to where we started in 5-14, measuring progress through the proxy measure of performance in national tests. I don't see anything particularly bad about this end-point, but it depresses me how many thousands of teacher-hours will have been wasted along the way. 


Assessment Through The Looking Glass⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

The old 5-14 assessments used to give robust, consistent answers to specific questions. The questions were of the form "what percentage of P7 students have managed to score at least 15 marks in one of a specific set of nationally generated assessment instruments". We thought that the questions were of the form "what percentage of P7 students have passed level D mathematics", but of course that isn't what we were measuring. We were measuring performance in tests. The mistaking of test performance for evidence of "passing a level" was bad, but we were right in thinking that we compared like with like as we looked at performance data from across Scotland.

Now we have abandoned national tests, and have moved towards measuring "passing a level" based on a combination of a rich bundle of assessments and teacher professional judgement. But what does it actually mean to have passed level 3 in numeracy? CfE documentation talks about assessing breadth of learning, level of challenge and ability to apply learning in unfamiliar contexts. But just how broad? How much challenge? How unfamiliar? None of these things are made clear (nor could they be), but this problem is supposedly addressed by the magic bullet "moderation". But moderation is not a magic bullet. No amount of moderation will allow us to reach a consensus on where the fundamentally vague boundary between levels lies, let alone how we can measure which side of the boundary any student sits at any given time. England stopped reporting on levels for good reason. You can read the report from the Commission on Assessment without Levels (published in September 2015) here. It says

Despite being intended only for use in statutory national assessments, too frequently levels also came to be used for in-school assessment between key stages in order to monitor whether pupils were on track to achieve expected levels at the end of key stages. This distorted the purpose of in-school assessment, particularly day-to-day formative assessment. The Commission believes that this has had a profoundly negative impact on teaching... Levels also used a ‘best fit’ model, which meant that a pupil could have serious gaps in their knowledge and understanding, but still be placed within the level. This meant it wasn’t always clear exactly which areas of the curriculum the child was secure in and where the gaps were. 

And yet we persist, and find ourselves in the Alice-in-Wonderland situation where schools are expected to provide data to the Government on the levels achieved by students in Reading, Writing, Listening-and-Talking and Numeracy, with this data being robust enough to allow us to measure progress over time. 

Of course we know where this is heading. Standardised tests are coming, and these will be used to determine the level achieved by pupils. The rhetoric is that we will use a combination of "teacher professional judgement" and the results of the tests. But it is categorically impossible for the former to generate anything resembling robust or consistent data. And so, over time, we will quietly drop the teacher judgement element and return to where we started in 5-14, measuring progress through the proxy measure of performance in national tests. I don't see anything particularly bad about this end-point, but it depresses me how many thousands of teacher-hours will have been wasted along the way. 


My Leadership Story⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

I have volunteered to "share my leadership journey" for ten minutes before leading a discussion with other middle leaders at a SCEL event in Edinburgh.  This blog post is a rehearsal of those ten minutes, and I would gratefully appreciate any constructive feedback.

I have a leadership story rather than a leadership journey to share. This is the story I tell myself about how I got to where I am now as a leader, and about where I might go next. It is very subjective and selective. Nonetheless I think it is worth sharing, because this is the truth I inhabit. You also have stories you tell yourself, and you inhabit your stories every day of your professional life. It is sometimes easy to recognise these stories in others - the colleague who sees themselves as the victim of unreasonable burdens regardless of changing circumstances or another who sees themselves as blessed and lucky no matter what misfortunes befall them. It is much harder to identify the stories we tell ourselves, because we tend to see them not as stories but as "how things are". These stories have immense power to shape our motivations and actions. If we are willing to examine them critically, we may even be able to reshape them into more powerful, positive stories.

Here's my story. It highlights the biographical moments which seem significant to me, and takes for granted my enduring desire to improve the lives of the young people of Scotland through education.

As a young teacher, I had no interest in leadership. I thought leadership was synonymous with dominance and control. I wanted to do neither. My worldview was influenced by Buddhist and psycho-therapeutic ideas. I believed in human growth and human potential, not in command-and-control.

I also thought promotion just meant less teaching and more administration (I was right about that!). And so I avoided anything I would have described as a leadership position for many years. I did, however, become a senior teacher with responsibility for ICT. But that wasn't leadership in my head, because I wasn't anyone's boss. During this period I began to blog and use Twitter, thanks to the work Don Ledingham, Ewan McIntosh, Louise Jones, David Gilmour, John Johnstone, Neil Winton, Kate Farrel, Ian Stuart and others were doing. They formed the core of my growing professional learning network. My horizons expanded beyond my room and the colleagues in my department. I participated in an early Teachmeet.

Then eventually my PT announced his impending retirement, and I was faced with the possibility of having to work under a new PT who might be younger and less experienced than me. That didn't seem like it would be fun, so I decided to apply. I had a lot of support and encouragement via Twitter and my PLN, who convinced me to go for it. Ollie Bray was particularly supportive in terms of getting my application right. I remember being conscious at the time that I would have to really want it to get it, so I invested much time and energy in preparing over a 6 month period. During that time I began to read about leadership, and found, to my great surprise, that modern thinking about leadership actually resonated with my beliefs about human potential and the nurturing of human growth. This was a real turning point for me. I saw the possibility of being a leader whilst remaining true to myself - leading with integrity. I began to learn more about coaching.

All I had to do now was to convince someone to give me a job. I had the great good fortune to work under a head teacher, Colin Sutherland, who saw potential in me, and he promoted me to PT.

I loved being PT maths and did a great job (even if I say so myself!), and might have remained one for the rest of my career had East Lothian schools not restructured their departments into faculties. This meant that every PT had to reapply for their job. After my interview, one of the panel asked Colin "why isn't Robert a depute already?". When Colin told me this, it had a big effect on me. I began to believe I could make a difference on a bigger scale than one department. I applied for the flexible route to headship programme. This was the best CLPL I ever did. I was coached by Dorothy Hillsley, to whom I am eternally grateful.


Four years later I was a depute head teacher, after one spell as an acting depute which ended with my failing to secure the permanent post. That hurt, but I learnt a lot, and came back more resilient and determined. I have my current head Lauren Rodger to thank for this: she didn't appoint me the first time, but she always supported and believed in me. I have now achieved the standard for Headship, am loving having the opportunity to make appoint difference at NBHS and more widely and aspire to headship - gies a job!

So that's my story. 25 years condensed into a few paragraphs. Many failures, mistakes and moments of doubt along the way have been edited out. This can't possibly be the whole truth, and some of it may be entirely untrue. The causal links are far too simplistic and it paints me in an altogether too positive light. Small incidents are given perhaps unwarranted significance. It skips entirely any examination of the values which underpin my motivation to be involved in education. It's just a story, not the truth. But it is an (incomplete) approximation of the truth I inhabit. I think it's a good story, because it motivates me to keep learning and working hard. It also keeps me humble as it recognises the good luck and support of others which have helped me along the way. I'm keeping my eyes open for a better story.

What's yours?

My Leadership Story⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

I have volunteered to "share my leadership journey" for ten minutes before leading a discussion with other middle leaders at a SCEL event in Edinburgh.  This blog post is a rehearsal of those ten minutes, and I would gratefully appreciate any constructive feedback.

I have a leadership story rather than a leadership journey to share. This is the story I tell myself about how I got to where I am now as a leader, and about where I might go next. It is very subjective and selective. Nonetheless I think it is worth sharing, because this is the truth I inhabit. You also have stories you tell yourself, and you inhabit your stories every day of your professional life. It is sometimes easy to recognise these stories in others - the colleague who sees themselves as the victim of unreasonable burdens regardless of changing circumstances or another who sees themselves as blessed and lucky no matter what misfortunes befall them. It is much harder to identify the stories we tell ourselves, because we tend to see them not as stories but as "how things are". These stories have immense power to shape our motivations and actions. If we are willing to examine them critically, we may even be able to reshape them into more powerful, positive stories.

Here's my story. It highlights the biographical moments which seem significant to me, and takes for granted my enduring desire to improve the lives of the young people of Scotland through education.

As a young teacher, I had no interest in leadership. I thought leadership was synonymous with dominance and control. I wanted to do neither. My worldview was influenced by Buddhist and psycho-therapeutic ideas. I believed in human growth and human potential, not in command-and-control.

I also thought promotion just meant less teaching and more administration (I was right about that!). And so I avoided anything I would have described as a leadership position for many years. I did, however, become a senior teacher with responsibility for ICT. But that wasn't leadership in my head, because I wasn't anyone's boss. During this period I began to blog and use Twitter, thanks to the work Don Ledingham, Ewan McIntosh, Louise Jones, David Gilmour, John Johnstone, Neil Winton, Kate Farrel, Ian Stuart and others were doing. They formed the core of my growing professional learning network. My horizons expanded beyond my room and the colleagues in my department. I participated in an early Teachmeet.

Then eventually my PT announced his impending retirement, and I was faced with the possibility of having to work under a new PT who might be younger and less experienced than me. That didn't seem like it would be fun, so I decided to apply. I had a lot of support and encouragement via Twitter and my PLN, who convinced me to go for it. Ollie Bray was particularly supportive in terms of getting my application right. I remember being conscious at the time that I would have to really want it to get it, so I invested much time and energy in preparing over a 6 month period. During that time I began to read about leadership, and found, to my great surprise, that modern thinking about leadership actually resonated with my beliefs about human potential and the nurturing of human growth. This was a real turning point for me. I saw the possibility of being a leader whilst remaining true to myself - leading with integrity. I began to learn more about coaching.

All I had to do now was to convince someone to give me a job. I had the great good fortune to work under a head teacher, Colin Sutherland, who saw potential in me, and he promoted me to PT.

I loved being PT maths and did a great job (even if I say so myself!), and might have remained one for the rest of my career had East Lothian schools not restructured their departments into faculties. This meant that every PT had to reapply for their job. After my interview, one of the panel asked Colin "why isn't Robert a depute already?". When Colin told me this, it had a big effect on me. I began to believe I could make a difference on a bigger scale than one department. I applied for the flexible route to headship programme. This was the best CLPL I ever did. I was coached by Dorothy Hillsley, to whom I am eternally grateful.


Four years later I was a depute head teacher, after one spell as an acting depute which ended with my failing to secure the permanent post. That hurt, but I learnt a lot, and came back more resilient and determined. I have my current head Lauren Rodger to thank for this: she didn't appoint me the first time, but she always supported and believed in me. I have now achieved the standard for Headship, am loving having the opportunity to make appoint difference at NBHS and more widely and aspire to headship - gies a job!

So that's my story. 25 years condensed into a few paragraphs. Many failures, mistakes and moments of doubt along the way have been edited out. This can't possibly be the whole truth, and some of it may be entirely untrue. The causal links are far too simplistic and it paints me in an altogether too positive light. Small incidents are given perhaps unwarranted significance. It skips entirely any examination of the values which underpin my motivation to be involved in education. It's just a story, not the truth. But it is an (incomplete) approximation of the truth I inhabit. I think it's a good story, because it motivates me to keep learning and working hard. It also keeps me humble as it recognises the good luck and support of others which have helped me along the way. I'm keeping my eyes open for a better story.

What's yours?

Planning for Learning or Planning for Behaviour?⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

Several months ago I found myself sitting beside a quite senior staff member from one of our colleges of initial teacher education, who complained to me that her student teachers all seemed to be obsessed with behaviour management.

I was flabbergasted, but failed miserably to put together a reasonable argument for why the students were quite right.

That conversation came back to me today as I taught a maths cover class, who were learning about the graphs of linear equations.  The class had some lively characters in it, and they were clearly struggling with the central concept: that a line on a coordinate diagram represents all the points where a particular linear equation involving x and y is true.

As they explored this concept through a series of activities, many of them experienced confusion and frustration. These are normal, healthy emotions for learners. We were able to stick with these challenging experiences partly because the pupils were operating in an environment in which misbehaviour wasn't an option. I'm not bragging here - they behaved themselves mainly because I'm a depute head and they don't know me very well.

It struck me that things would be very different in an environment in which the good behaviour of pupils was always contingent upon them enjoying themselves, experiencing success or performing well. In such an environment (which prevailed in some of the classes I taught in the early years of my career, by the way), the teacher would veer away from tasks which involved challenge and required perseverance. They would lean towards activities which were entertaining and provided quick gratification and the illusion of learning, for fear of otherwise provoking poor behaviour.

If your (and by "your" I refer to the school as a whole as much as to individual teachers) - if your behaviour management is impeccable and the expectations of behaviour and effort in your classes are sky-high, then you are liberated from that fear, and can focus on planning for learning rather than planning for behaviour. Your students are then more likely to experience the profound gratification of learning, rather than the shallow gratification of success-in-the-moment.

That's why student teachers are right to be obsessed with behaviour management.