Tag Archives: Deliberate practice

Using Digital Intentionally⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Since first appearing here, this post has since been posted on the Education Scotland PLL blog.

In my last blog, I asked leaders to think about how they might liberate the minds of their staff teams. To adopt “intention” instead of “instruction” based leadership strategies. The notion of ‘intentionality’ has been at the fore of my thoughts for some time. Whilst discussing the benefits of digital tools, and training staff and students to maximise those benefits, I have been in the habit of asking leaders and teachers about their intended use of digital as part of wider school improvement ambitions.

Often, the responses have outlined a drive to integrate digital tools into classroom activity or develop digital literacy amongst staff and students. Recently, though, I was told “I want to see the devices used in every lesson”. It may seem counter intuitive, but I reacted negatively to such all-encompassing digital goals.

In another conversation, an early career teacher rightly asked me about the long-term effects of digital tool usage on younger children. The same question was often raised during the remote learning of 2020, when people rightly worried about the negative impacts of too much screen time during Covid lockdown.

Both of these conversations were revealing about how important it is to discuss intention when planning the use of digital tools and technologies. To both, I responded in a similar way:

Our classroom teachers are professionals. They know our children and know how best to provide engaging, meaningful learning opportunities for them. Classroom teachers will look to provide a variety of experiences, some of which might be digital, most of which will be analogue. Indeed, you wouldn’t ask your students to write all day every day, or walk around with a bean bag on their head for hours on end. Everything in moderation allows for skills to be honed without negative side effects. The use of digital is no different.

On reflection, these conversations revealed more about competency than attitude. Just as would be done for outward-bound trips, planning is essential for a positive digital learning experience. Moreover, a robust Risk/Benefit Analysis is required to ensure any risks are mitigated where possible and worthwhile where not. In my experience, the best RBAs for trips are done by people who visit the site first, are clear about the learning goals and fully understand the activities which are planned, and are knowledgeable of the measures in place to keep children safe: outdoor education instructors have a depth of experience and expertise within that field that the average classroom teacher simply hasn’t and as such, the RBAs of teachers who work collaboratively with the instructors to plan the excursion are generally far more detailed than those written in the classroom. (Indeed, never mind analysing the risks, some dedicated teachers can struggle more than the pupils with the treetop ropes course or abseiling off a tower!)

One challenge with digital then, is that relatively few teachers have yet to build-up sufficient professional expertise and experience of digital tools to feel confident in planning meaningful experience, identifying the risks or providing digital safety. Central teams then, whether at local authority level or the @DigiLearnScot team at Education Scotland, are charged with providing scaffolding and training across a range of topics and platforms, stretching their capacity and resources to the limits without really getting the chance to collaborate with the classroom teacher.

Some help may be at hand. In his book, DigitalMinimalism, Cal Newport writes, “I am glad that we are worried about digital wellness but I think we have to go beyond small tweaks and hacks, and start thinking seriously about ‘What is the role of technology in our modern notion of the good life?’

And so I ask you, ‘What is the role of technology in our modern notion of good learning and teaching?’

By identifying the goal, we may avoid much of the risk. Either by reducing the potential for over-use or by avoiding the potential for misuse.

The idea of planning deliberate use of digital tools and technology might seem obvious, but when speaking to teachers across the country, I am regularly amazed by how many focus either on digital learning as the end result without fully considering why digital is the best medium for the planned learning activity (like the earlier conversation, the use is in itself the achievement). Almost as common are those who see the use of digital as little more than a threat to discipline or learning (without contemplating the opportunities to leverage rich learning experiences through strategic use of digital technology).

To those who simply view digital tool use as the ambition, I urge caution. As Newport remarked, “Simply put humans are not wired to be constantly wired”. If you are asking your young people to plug in, be sure to have a clear rationale for why.

To those, who see digital tools as little more than a distraction, disruption or hazard, I urge you to look for the benefits but embrace the principles of Digital Minimalism.

Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value—not as sources of value themselves. They don’t accept the idea that offering some small benefit is justification for allowing an attention-gobbling service into their lives, and are instead interested in applying new technology in highly selective and intentional ways that yield big wins. Just as important: they’re comfortable missing out on everything else.

~ Newport, Digital Minimalism (2019) 

I was given pause for thought during the HarvardX Leaders of Learning course, when educator and PBS commentator David Thornburg’s observed, “We use to ask the question, 'What can I do with technology?' as opposed to 'What can I do now that I have technology?'"

There is no denying that digital tools can have a negative impact on focus. We see this every day in our classrooms as children and young people struggle to focus without checking their phones for a dopamine hit. Countering the lure of the phone may be one of our greatest challenges and one of our core responsibilities going forward. By embracing digital minimalism we do not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead reject the way so many of us currently engage with these tools. In some ways, the tools themselves might even help us mitigate this addictive behaviour, through careful use of assistive technologies built-in to cut out distracting notifications or app usage. The deployment of centrally managed devices, like in Glasgow, the Borders and Edinburgh, might also stem the constant distraction by enabling tougher stances on unmanaged device use within schools (including phones). On breaking our reliance on attention-seeking tech, Newport has written extensively, illustrating how we might go about (re)building focus, training our brain: it starts with 20 minutes of avoiding distraction. Warning: It's not as easy as it sounds.

Beyond competing with social media, we must open learning experiences that have never been available before to enrich curricular and non-curricular offerings. Fundamentally, schools and councils will have to provide teachers with greater opportunities to develop their understanding of digital pedagogies and to explore the positive benefits of digital technologies.

My former colleagues in the Empowered Learning team at Edinburgh might provide an initial step for this. Their #SAMRTuesday girds on Twitter support the intentional use of digital tools with clear planned purposes and worked-examples of using the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Reimagination) framework (created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura) to show how digital can enhance and even transform many aspects of learning and teaching.

Leveraging the power of digital in the classroom can improve outcomes for all our young people. But with great power comes greater risk, don’t run with those digital scissors in your hand. Embrace digital minimalism. Use it sparingly, build your competencies and wield your digital pedagogies intentionally.

Leading Intentionally, Teaching Deliberately⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Originally posted on Education Scotland's PLL blog

On finishing reading Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library” as part of a staff book club, I re-read Walden. It features heavily in Haig’s bestseller and I was keen to remind myself of why I had adored it as a student, and why so many people continue to list it in their Top 10 books.

It didn’t take long to remember why it was so universally appealing. Despite being 170 years old, the messages are as pertinent today as they were when Thoreau sat by the lake in his cabin writing it.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

I have written previously on this blog about the never-ending plate spinning that we, as educators and school leaders, must undertake. Thoreau, then, describes precisely what we all dream of: the stripping back of our day-to-day struggles and to front only the essential tasks of teaching.

Teaching: the very business with which we all fell in love, before the great Sisyphean boulder of administration and bureaucracy threatened to crush us under its momentum.

As leaders, how do we support our staff to teach deliberately and help them feel valued as professionals? How do we help them take a step to the side and allow the great boulder to hurtle past, without crushing others with additional workload or assumed responsibility? Perhaps, it is by taking a step backwards ourselves. Identify the key objectives, but don’t overdo the management of the process.

In his book, Turn This Ship Around, L. David Marquet quickly gets to the core of this,

 "The problem with specifying the method along with the goal is one of diminished control. Provide your people with the objective and let them figure out the method."

At a recent lecture at the University of Oslo, Dr. Pamela Grossman (Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania) discussed the importance of “a common language for teaching”. In her lecture, she explained that in order to measure something, we must first be able to name it. We must identify the components of practice that we might want to target for improvement, to look at intentionally and over time to better understand what we are doing.

Both Marquet and Grossman point to an informed, engaged and emancipated workforce. A staff which is encouraged to use their brains to think their own way to improved outcomes, ready to enquire and test, to throw in novel ideas, to challenge the status quo. Marquet never relinquished control of his submarine, but he did reverse the flow of information from top down to bottom up. In doing so, he freed up his crew to make decisions based on the evidence in front of them, he asked them to tell him what they intended to do. He then, with the safety of the ship and crew at the fore, could oversee and focus his energies where they were most needed. In a school using the power of the Hive to develop and improve, where every mind is focussed on the end result, how might you better use your energies?

As leaders, it is assumed that we will make the strategic decisions necessary to safely steer our schools on their course to success. Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean we allow school policy and improvement agendas to interfere with the intentions of our professional staff. The issue with that is it diminishes opportunities to listen to the ideas of our staff. Every school enjoys a staff team comprising a wealth of skills, life experiences and ideas, how many fully liberate those minds to make decisions, to think, and to steer? Again, Marquet is direct with his analysis, “If you want people to think, give them intent, not instruction.”

Are you ready to give your staff intent rather than instruction? Are you doing all you can to let your staff to teach deliberately?

Capture, Cleanse and Weave⤴

from @ andrewjmclaughlin

Originally posted on Education Scotland's PLL blog

With Tartan Day celebrated on 6th April, the news was awash with stories of Brand Scotland being celebrated and promoted internationally. With Social Media timelines jammed with digital shortbread tins and heartfelt pleas to those in charge of American business budgets, it was all feeling a bit like Brigadoon had set up home in the Metaverse.

One story caught my eye though, that of Moray-based tartan textile specialists Great Scot. The firm have created a new 'Ukraine Forever' tartan using the colours of the Scottish and Ukrainian flags as a gesture of support the war-torn Ukraine. Apparently, it was a real team effort leading up to the production of this tartan. The idea came from their online community and everyone in the company was involved in the creation, from seamstresses to the delivery team.

It is amazing the opportunities that can arise when people work together.

On a frosty November morning, back in 2020, I joined the “International Blether” with Dr. Simon Breakspear of the Gonski Institute in Australia. Simon was invited by Education Scotland to share his thinking about leading through the complexity of that first year of Covid, and how to make the most of the opportunities that came with that uncertainty. Like the new tartan, Simon emphasised the need to spot those new opportunities. He challenged those listening to capture, cleanse and weave those opportunities into our established practice.


The pandemic was both furnace and tsunami. It applied heat and pressure to established practices, stress testing them for weaknesses. And didn’t we all see systems that just could not stand up to that new pressure. Covid also acted like a giant wave – disrupting the ways we worked as it crashed down on us, but also revealing new complexities and insight as the initial impact ebbed again. We were all thrown around by the impact, but we flexed and made small changes to how we worked. I’ve spent the last year encouraging staff not to let all that learning be forgotten.

The use of Teams to share work across Faculties leads to much more effective moderation and is a blessing for any Faculty leader trying to pull cover together during absences.Recording quick expositions, as was common due to the need for anytime, anywhere learning, now saves classroom teachers from having to repeat themselves, freeing up time for more targeted support instead.Using voice notes for feedback avoids the need for teachers to write screeds on student work, and also allows the student to re-listen as they redraft, making the effort far more worthwhile.

While it has been tempting to return to ‘normal’ due to the stresses of the last two years, some changes are definitely worth hanging on to.


As schools now return to something much more akin to our old ‘normal’, have you and your team snapped back to the old, established ways of working or did you take time to make deliberate decisions about how you wanted to move forward, learning from the innovations of those turbulent Covid times? Whether it is lengthy paper trails or poor communication, think about all those frustrations that have impacted on your team’s ability to deliver. This is your chance to unpick from the complex systems any aspects that are no longer fit for purpose. I’ve been lucky to visit many schools over the last 9 months and it has struck me that in some, those new modes are still battling with old practices. In some schools, online parents’ nights (although challenging at times) were incredibly successful, allowing for additional dates to be added, tighter control of time slots, and greater flexibility for parents – in those schools, these might be preferred to the old in-school setup.


The hardest part of all of this perhaps, is seamlessly bringing the new practice in alongside old systems to create a whole new way of working. Having unpicked that which no longer works for you, this is a chance to create systems that allow you to build on the successes of the past whilst enabling greater improvement, weaving innovations into the fabric of your team.

Right now, I’m working on how we make better use of data in our schools. I certainly don’t want to ask teachers to create more data (goodness knows we have an abundance of high quality data in our schools already), but I have to ask if we are using all that data effectively. I hope that small changes and simple innovations can help us share that data around the school more easily, using digital tools to synthesise and analyse different sources and generate reports to help build clearer pictures of our learners, our classes, and our schools. In essence, weaving the data that has always been generated with a new process to tell an enriched story.

Like a new tartan, your weave of old and new will in itself tell a story of your team. The old ways, customs and traditions rooting you in your locale, while the new ways celebrating your ability to, not only survive, but thrive under the pressure, heat and crashing power of the Covid crisis.