Tag Archives: Leadership

Bottom, thou art translated …or Bishop’s Move⤴

from @ blethers

There are so many temptations to play with the title of this post that it could almost divert me from the purpose of writing it. Almost, but not quite. The news broke on Saturday that the Bishop of Argyll and The Isles was to become the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. Two dioceses, the same small denomination. Two dioceses, one populous, the other scattered and sparsely populated over a massive area. This process is not common in the Scottish Episcopal Church - apparently it last occurred almost 100 years ago - and so was not something that even the knowledgable person in the pew would think possible. And the process is called, would you believe, "translation".

I learned of our bishop's translation on Facebook before elevenses on the Saturday when, we had been told, the appointment of the Bishops' choice for Glasgow would be announced. No longer an election because the electors of the diocese had been unable to find a suitable candidate, this was to be a choice, as happened to the Diocese of Argyll some nine years or so ago. Presumably the College of Bishops knew how they were heading before Saturday's meeting - I cannot for a moment imagine it was a Spirit-driven spur of the moment thing. And I learned of it on Facebook. And on Twitter. And then there were the photos on Instagram. And great was the rejoicing thereof, and not a word about the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles.

The announcement was in the pew sheet the next day - the same announcement people like me had seen online. It came as no surprise to me, but in my generation I am known as a social media peculiarity. I could hear the indrawn breaths. And people felt bereft, and just a tad let down. Our last incumbent left to become a bishop - but that, to be honest, was not unexpected.  Bishops tend merely to retire, and retirement, like old age, does not come as a surprise.

At this point, I need to make one notable exception to the torrent of well-meaning explanation as to why this was really needed for Glasgow diocese - as if I needed told. One Glasgow priest had the pastoral sensitivity to respond to my early shocked reaction, not with explanation but with an expression of sympathy and concern, and the assurance of prayer. It is a sad reflection on the church as an organisation that this simple, priestly act brought a tearful response.

There needs to be a serious look at how these things are managed in this era of instant communication. We are no longer waiting for the white smoke, for the revelation of who the latest bishop is to be. Someone gets carried away - for whatever reason - and posts online. Happens in politics all the time. But this is the church. We are supposed to think of our bishop as our Father in God. This is like telling a family that actually the family across the water - for that is where the receiving diocese is for us here - can't stop bickering and so your father is being sent to look after them. You're a sensible lot, they say - you can manage on your own. And they tell you, not even in a private message or a text, but on social media. A done deal.

The truth is that yes, we can manage. As long as we feel loved, and cherished, and valued for our contribution to the church - not financial, but  because we're faithful. But take that for granted, forget to include us in your thinking - no. The College of Bishops, which includes some perfectly savvy media operators, needs to think about the effect of their decisions and the pastoral care of the people without whom there would be no church. It is not the Bishop that keeps going an individual charge like the one in which I participate. It's the passion of the laity, kept aflame, if we're lucky, by the ministrations of our clergy. My church is in a good place just now, spiritually and organisationally. But some of us today are feeling let down by the very people who should be caring for us all.

As I write this, I've found that some people in Glasgow diocese have become aware that there have been failings. I've had two series of supportive messages and an apology, and I appreciate them all. But none of them came from the source that should have managed the whole situation, and none of them has been directed to the people of Argyll and The Isles. For the sake of the diocese and the sake of the Church, I hope it's not too late.

The Line⤴

from @ EduBlether

On the back of thinking about all the small things that lead to successes in a school, I thought it would be apt to consider the other side of this. One of the seemingly small things that add to a considerable amount of disruption and wasted learning time, in all of the schools I have ever worked in, is the line. I’m going to discuss the various problems I see with this accepted norm, and then I will try to consider some alternatives.

One of the main issues I have with this is the wasted teaching and learning time that could be better spent doing anything else. The time it takes between a bell ringing and children getting into a classroom is huge. Let’s do some quick maths on this. A conservative estimate (based purely on my own experience, with admittedly no scientific rigour applied), would be that it takes at least 5 minutes once the bell has gone to have a class ready to come in at the start of the day, after break and after lunch (at least!). So this is potentially 15 minutes each day, which is about 70 minutes across the week, taking in to account the half-day! That is over 44 hours across the school year.

I don’t want you to think I am ever condoning counting minutes and seconds and making sure every possible part of time is accounted for. This would be dangerous for a large number of reasons. But when there are so many other issues, it begs the question, why are we wasting our time on a bizarre and old fashioned custom that gives nothing back?

Ordinarily, children have been playing in an unstructured and child-led way, then a bell goes (quite abruptly) and they have to stop immediately and form a line, one behind each other. We often scorn them for not being straight enough or for continuing conversations. Quite militaristic when you think about it? But this is quite difficult for a lot of children to do (I think I would struggle to be honest) especially if they have been engaging in high energy play. What are we achieving by standing in line? Efficient management of people cannot be an argument here due to the amount of wasted time. Compliance?

I don’t like the idea of continuing to do something one way just because it is the way we have always done it. I want to know what the alternatives are.

Comment below with any suggestions on alternatives to lining up.

All the small things⤴

from @ EduBlether

I have been thinking a lot recently about all the small things that I do in my job as a Depute headteacher. Now, there are a lot of high-profile strategic things that I do which are of great importance (I’m a very important person do t you k ow?). Things like having an overview of attainment for example, or working through complex pastoral concerns. Yet for me, this is not what my job is really about.

I would argue that the most important part of my job is a collection of small and seemingly insignificant things. The things that go unnoticed and can’t fit nicely on a spreadsheet. I am talking about things like standing on the school gates in the morning and saying hello to as many people as you can. Or the times I play football with the children who just want to tackle a teacher, but then I somehow managed to avoid their lunging feet and score a wonder goal. Or even something as simple as noticing when a child gets a haircut and giving them a compliment. In fact one of the easiest things, yet the thing with such a profound impact is the simple act of smiling. We don’t measure how many smiles we have managed to raise at the end of the school year, or how many times we made a child laugh, but it is exactly these things that are so important to me. I am not for a second saying that I want to start measuring these things, all I am saying is I want to spend time recognizing how important they are.

These things are so important to me because they build relationships. It is these daily interactions that build a culture in a school. It is these small moments in time that collectively add up to so much more. So it is for this very reason that I am going to embrace my misspent youth listening to Blink 182 and spend more time celebrating all the small things that I do in my job. I feel that this will allow me to appreciate the tiny successes that happen every day.

What are the small things that you do that you would like to shout about?

UnsustainED? Why ESD isn’t working.⤴

from @ robin_macp

“Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?” – Greta Thunberg

2019 has seen millions of schoolchildren across the world strike on Fridays because of inaction on climate change. As a teacher, this poses an ethical dilemma. We want our pupils to show exactly the kind of intelligence and integrity that Thunberg does, but we don’t want to see formal education being excluded from the solution. It’s a damning indictment of our profession if pupil empowerment comes from skipping school rather than being in lessons. 

At the heart of this is a significant issue that isn’t widely enough acknowledged; the drive for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has singularly failed to improve the sustainability consciousness (SC) of young people. This is despite UNESCO organising an entire decade (the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, or DESD) from 2005 to 2014 on the issue. National programmes of certification of eco schools have been rolled out on different continents, but the research done so far on their efficacy all points to one uncomfortable truth; its impact has been negligible. 

There are big questions to answer here. What problems has research into the approach revealed? Why has the approach largely failed?  And, crucially, can it be rescued? Let’s begin with the issues that have been thrown up by schools that have followed some form of certified approach which requires standard practices like audits of the curriculum and basic operations. Different research papers have focused on Belgium (Boeve-de Pauw and Van Petegem 2013), Sweden (Olsson et al, 2015), Taiwan (Olsson et al, 2018) and America (Higgs and McMillan, 2006), to name but a few. There are some common themes that emerge:

  1. Gender gap: girls are more likely to exhibit behaviours and attitudes that show sustainability consciousness than boys. This may even be due to implicit gender stereotyping in how programmes are constructed. 
  2. Age fluctuation: young children (typically up to age 12) show genuine interest in ESD programmes, but by age 14-15 this actually becomes negative – what Olsson calls the ‘adolescent dip’. There is an improvement by age 18, assuming the programmes are continued to that age.
  3. Socio-economic background: schools in areas with higher levels of income struggle to make any inroads on SC, and in fact the overall effect may be negative. 
  4. Death by Certification: schools that have followed certified programmes show little if any improvements over schools that do not, in terms of the SC of their pupils. Effect sizes where eco programmes are adopted are 0.2 at best. Worryingly, many of these schools think they are making a difference when they are not.

Much of this is due to the limited interpretation of what sustainability really is. When the focus is restricted to environmental issues only, the knowingness, behaviours and attitudes of pupils shows little change. What schools are failing to emphasise are the social and economic dimensions. In his PhD thesis (2018), Olsson goes into depth on his development of this model:

Olsson diagram

In this context, ‘knowingness’ is defined as a “theory of knowing” about the fundamentals of sustainable development, where critical thinking is an essential component. This addresses a core issue: much of what is going on in ESD-focused classrooms is about imparting knowledge without understanding. For example, pupils may know that eating less meat is good for the environment. Do they know why? And are they able to critically debate the dissonance about environmental sustainability (reduced water consumption) and economic sustainability (the impact on farmers)? This is where ESD is currently falling down: there is an absence of both breadth of the concept and critical thinking about it.

What is emphasised as making a difference is the need for pluralism and holism in teaching methods. What this means is teaching the full range of ESD concepts (not just environmental) from multiple disciplines and angles. This leads to ‘action competence’ in pupils, which means they understand a range of possible options, have confidence that they have agency, and then show willingness to turn this into concrete actions. Research conducted so far suggests that ESD can have an impact if it leads to this, but all too often it is ideologically driven, lacking in solid pedagogy, confined to environmental issues, and the agenda is driven by agencies outside of education. 

Back in 2007, Vare and Scott made an important distinction between ESD 1 (education for sustainable development) and ESD 2 (education as sustainable development). ESD 2 offers much more promise, as it focuses on critical thinking (which the authors emphasise is domain specific) and metacognition. This approach appeals to me and I hope that it will be the basis of ESD going forward.

There is no doubt that making all systems that support human life more sustainable is ethical and desirable. What we need to do is make sure that education about these issues is itself sustainable, and that is what bodies like UNESCO and the OECD have yet to get right. The Incheon Declaration of 2015 and the laudable goals it sets out have 15 years to deliver. Four years in, the Greta Thunberg effect suggests that a lot will need to be done in the next 11 years if this is going to make a difference.  

References:

Lyons Higgs, A., and McMillan, (2006) V.,‘Teaching Through Modeling: Four Schools’ Experiences in Sustainability Education’, Journal of Environmental Education, Vol. 38, No1

Olsson, D (2018) ‘Student Sustainability Consciousness: Investigating Effects of Education for Sustainable Development in Sweden and Beyond’ Doctoral Thesis, Karlstad University Studies

Olsson, D., N. Gericke, and Chang Rundgren, S.-N. (2016) ‘The effect of implementation of education for sustainable development in Swedish compulsory schools assessing pupilssustainability consciousness’, Environmental Education Research, Vol. 22, No. 2, 176202,

Olsson, D., Gericke, N., Boeve-de Pauw, J., Berglund T., Chang, T., (2019) ‘Green schools in Taiwan – Effects on student sustainability consciousness’, Global Environmental Change 54, 184–194 

Vare, P. and Scott, W. (2007) ‘Learning for a Change: Exploring the Relationship Between Education and Sustainable Development’, Journal of Education for Sustainable Development 1:2, 191–198

Briefing on Gaelic Education⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

Seo fiosrachadh ùr bhuainn:

https://education.gov.scot/improvement/Documents/BriefingonGaelicEducationSept2019.pdf 

Please see our September  Briefing on Gaelic Education here:

https://education.gov.scot/improvement/Documents/BriefingonGaelicEducationSept2019.pdf

Our briefings on Gaelic Education  keep practitioners updated of some of Education Scotland’s, and key partners’, support for improvement in Gaelic Education. Please follow this link for more information:

https://education.gov.scot/improvement/learning-resources/Briefings%20on%20Gaelic%20Education/Fiosrachadh%20mun%20Ghàidhlig

Episode 16 – An EduBlether with David Cameron⤴

from

In this wide ranging interview, David Cameron shares his thoughts, experiences and wisdom. An exhilarating interview.

Listen to Episode 16 – An EduBlether with David Cameron.

The sun is still is still shining…⤴

from

The sun is still shining and the music keeps playing. It must be the summer holidays. As I jet off to the south of France for a final week of rest before returning to school, I reflect on the seven weeks of the summer and look forward to the year ahead at school and beyond.

At the beginning of the summer, I jetted off to Mozambique, the Kingdom of eSwatini and South Africa for a world challenge trip with school. Twelve students and three staff made the 3 week long trek across Africa experiencing a marine conservation project, trek, Kruger national park, supporting a neighbourhood care point and some much needed rest and relaxation. It’s hard to believe now that the summer is nearly over. But what has been learnt about my time in Africa. Well, for one, how fortunate we are in having access to clean running water, access to free comprehensive education and free healthcare. It is hard not to feel a certain sense of guilt that I and many other people take all of the above for granted.

During the holidays a major task has always been to ensure that I completed my 8000 final assignment for the SCEL Into Headship programme. Due date: 19th August. I am pleased to say that I have now completed that assignment and after many redrafts and poorly constructed sentences, it now reads rather well. I never thought at the beginning of the holidays that I would have come to this point. What has struck me about my learning, I definitely need a deadline to motivate me! I also feel as though this summer, my work life balance has not been as balanced as it would normally be. I have always advocated for a holiday to be a holiday as I recognise the important work staff do throughout the year, including evenings, weekends and feel that holidays are a safe zone for work.

As our political landscape becomes even more scary, with the prospect of an early general election, crashing out the EU and a second independence referendum, I feel that the time is right for some optimism. The benefits of the holidays are always the increased time for thinking. But what positive rays of sunshine are there?

Well, for one the start of a new term is always enjoyable. Meeting new staff, new pupils and parents. It also provides an opportunity for a fresh look at aspects of the school improvement plan. Staff and young people are always much more up for it in this first term when compared to other terms.

What will be interesting to see is the development of some developments this year on a political front. For example, what will happen with the review around jobsizing toolkit which was promised as part of the pay review. Or indeed, how will the GTCS standards review impact our work in schools including the recommendations of implementing a lead teacher role within the existing career structure. Furthermore, how will the rhetoric of collaboration and empowerment play out as we continue to see the regional improvement collaborative embed themselves. Will the headteachers charter delivery empowerment for school leaders to develop their own curriculum and staffing structures. And will greater financial freedom lead to greater decision making?

I want to end with a key learning point from this year’s into Headship conference, led by Gayle Gorman.

Gayle highlighted the desire to move from a politically-driven system to a professionally-led system.

If realised, this will lead to a sustainable, embedded change out with the reach of changing government priorities. It may also lead to a greater clarity of purpose across Scotland rather than interpretation of policies being adopted by groups of politicians of different persuasions.

As the summer holidays draw to an end, please keep smiling and stay optimistic.

EduBlether

Episode 13 – Professional Learning⤴

from

Listen to this episode on spotify, apple podcast, soundcloud or any other podcasting app. You can also click on the picture above to listen to this episode.

COBIS and researchED Dubai: takeaways⤴

from @ robin_macp

I spoke at the Innovation in Education conference last week at Dubai College for COBIS and researchED, which was a great chance to catch up with friends and meet new people working in the Middle East. Here are a few thoughts based on the sessions I saw.

Becky Allen – @profbeckyallen

This is always a pleasure, because Becky’s book with Sam Sims ‘The Teacher Gap’ is excellent and takes to task the poor policies and practices that have beset the profession in recent years. There are massive crises in terms of recruitment and retention (with 20% the typical turnover figure per school per annum), but few people are doing something about it. Becky is. She’s also responsible for Teacher TAPP, which, if you haven’t downloaded it, do. It’s nicely addictive and is the best opinion poll on teaching out there: weapons-grade data, served daily.

Becky A

David Bott

Positive education is getting a lot of traction internationally and David taught at Geelong Grammar School in Australia, which has been a pioneer in the field. They send all Year 9 pupils to a remote campus at Timbertop for a year (without any tech or much comfort) to develop resilience and coping skills, and established the Institute of Positive Education. There was definitely an evangelical feel to the room and David’s charisma fueled this, and I liked the discussion that followed from his simple question of ‘what do you most want for your students?’ This said, I’m not convinced about this approach and want to see that it means more than virtue signalling. Wellbeing is important and young people do need support, but at the moment I see more style than substance here. I’d be happy to be proved wrong, but the evidence base looks shaky to me.

David Didau – @DavidDidau

A double dose of Didau, covering his two books ‘What if everything you knew about education was wrong?’ and ‘Making Kids Cleverer’. What I like about David is that he always challenges established norms and makes you reconsider everything you think you know. I don’t always agree with him, but you can’t deny the breadth of his knowledge in terms of research. What caused a storm on edutwitter was my support for this slide:

Didau
I have a lot of issues with the 21st century skills narrative because it is misleading and may even detract from skills that are more recent and need sharper focus for students (networking, for example). Is creativity a skill? No, it is a characteristic. Is it 21st century? No, it is as old as the human race. Can it be taught? I don’t think it can be taught explicitly, but can be nurtured in the right environment. In this respect, it is the product of a good education rather than a subset of a curriculum. It is the sum of the whole school experience. Needless to say, the jury is still out on this though.

Kate Jones – @87History

No one has done more to promote effective teaching and learning in the Middle Eastern classroom than Kate Jones (not least because she runs @teachuaechat) and her book ‘Love to Teach’ is a modern classic. She offers a wealth of practical strategies to try in the classroom and has read pretty much every edubook moving. In particular I liked her own version of the TPACCK model, which looks like this:

20190427_151817

Kate’s addition is cognitive knowledge and it’s fair to argue that the sweet spot in the middle of this leads to great teaching and learning. The best way to find out more is to follow her blog here.

Mike Lambert – @DCol_Head

Mike is the headteacher at Dubai College and from what I have heard (and now seen) he is doing a great job. He has been a key figure in bringing  UAE schools together to form a strategic alliance which will bring huge benefit to pupils in the country. This isn’t easy – competition for pupils means that schools here have not cooperated a great deal in the past because they are rivals more than allies. This seems to be changing and the culture now is very different to the one I experienced in the UAE a decade ago. Mike elaborated on the efficacy of systems leadership and the extent of his knowledge on the evidence base is really robust. Definitely one to follow on Twitter.

20190427_112117

Olly Lewis – @OLewis_coaching

This was really impressive. Olly is doing great work in ed-tech and recommended (and demonstrated successfully) a number of websites and apps that I haven’t come across, like Mentimeter. There was also a great discussion at the end about the level of engagement between teachers and ed-tech companies, sparked by the presence of an ed-tech rep in the room who spoke up for the companies that often get slated for failing to listen to teachers or be familiar with the needs of schools. I’ve got a long list of things to look at from this, so tweet Olly for more recommendations.

Rose Luckin – @Knowldgillusion

Artificial Intelligence is the Fourth Education Revolution, but what impact will it have on education? Rose Luckin is a Professor at UCL IoE and helped to establish the Institute for Ethical Artificial Intelligence in Education. She tackled some of the standard claims about AI, such as the extent to which it will consume jobs. Crucially, she pointed out that machine learning cannot understand everything, including itself, and also asserted that AI will mean a need for more teachers, not fewer. This field continues to be contentious, and although I missed the panel debate afterwards I gather it got a bit heated. It’s an area we’ll all be hearing more about, but I would like to see more people challenging the assumption that AI will be the end of us all; I want more hard evidence, less Terminator-style narratives.

Rose L

Me…

I did two sessions, one (happily) titled ‘death to CPD’, and the second on the reasons for the rise of cognitive psychology principles in teaching over the past decade. In short, I find the old model of CPD (one-size fits all, one day courses and little impact for high cost) infuriating. I’ve written about this here, and argued that we need to look at under-used resources that have greater benefit and cost less.  Above all, good professional learning takes time and needs to be stretched over a year. The Teacher Development Trust is a great place to look for more on this, as is ‘Unleashing Great Teaching’ by Bridget Clay and David Weston.

IMG_20190428_223902

On cog-sci, I am a big fan but I think it’s important that we stop to consider some of the issues that arise from its sudden and widespread adoption.  The field goes back to when Hermann Ebbinghaus started his groundbreaking research into memory in 1879, and spread further when the ‘father of cognitive psychology’ Ulric Neisser published his seminal book in 1967. This raises various questions. What caused the shift towards cog-sci, and why is it only relatively recently that it has grown in popularity? Secondly, are we sufficiently skilled as a profession to practise this? After all, how many of us had proper training in this field during ITT? Are we just an army of enthusiastic amateurs? If we embrace interleaving fully, what are the implications for the curriculum? Mark Healy (@cijane02), a graduate and teacher of psychology for 25 years, tells me that even now he struggles to understand some of the nuances of working memory – yet everyone on Twitter is apparently an expert. These are all valid concerns so I will continue to a) use cog-sci in the classroom but b) critically scrutinise whether I am getting it right. As is often the case with research, the evidence base and theory are solid, but application can be awry. To be continued…

And finally…

A huge thanks to Annie Kirkaldy, Dee Saran, Sarah Lambert and all the other Dubai College staff who hosted and ran the events over two days superbly. Let’s hope it becomes a staple of the Middle Eastern education calendar.

The Ship of Theseus: the Nature of Change in Schools⤴

from @ robin_macp

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

This is about a philosophical thinking problem, and the messages that emerge for teachers and school leaders. If you know your philosophy, you can skip to the second half. If you don’t, read on…

A philosophical dilemma: the Ship of Theseus

Plutarch highlighted this problem and it has been developed and debated for centuries. In the dilemma, the ship of Theseus returns after a long period of voyaging (aided by the youth of Athens, he slew the Minotaur). When his voyage ends his ship is maintained for posterity, so when any part of it decays it is replaced. In the fullness of time, none of the original ship is left, but it still looks exactly like the ship of Theseus. This raises a question: is it still the same ship?

There are various riffs on this dilemma. A popular one is Washington’s axe, but you can also use Trigger’s broom. Washington’s axe resides in a museum, but the handle becomes rotten and is replaced. Then the blade becomes rusted, so it is also replaced. Same axe? Not the same axe? Personally I prefer Trigger’s broom (from Only Fools and Horses). Trigger wins an award for using the same broom for twenty years. He then reveals he’s changed the head seventeen times and the handle fourteen times. If you ask Trigger though, it’s the same broom – it looks the same and does the same job. No doubt he would agree that it’s the same axe wielded by George Washington.

You may be unconvinced by the ship, and the axe/broom examples seem trite. But how about Shinto temples? Their wood is replaced every 20 years. In one temple, the wood always comes from the same nearby forest because the trees are held to be sacred. Is this still the same temple?

And finally – to really mess with your mind – no cell in the human body lives longer than seven years. If you’ve done the ten year challenge, then consider this: not a single physical shred of that person exists anymore. Is it the same ship/axe/broom/temple/you?

What does this mean for teachers?

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” – Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist

Education has never been, nor ever will be, static. Pedagogy changes, policy changes, culture changes – children change. We can never stay still as we constantly need to be up to speed with our professional practice. However, we all know people who teach exactly the same way in 2019 that they did back in 2009. They think they’ve cracked teaching and that what they do ‘works’, but how do we define what ‘works’ and how can teachers know if their practice is effective? Something to consider is that we have learned a great deal from cognitive psychology in the last decade. The quest for a better understanding about how we learn and how our memories work will take decades yet. Teaching will change in line with our collective knowledge.

I accept that lessons I taught that I thought were great a decade ago won’t pass muster now. I accept this, and I welcome it as a challenge of my job. My father decided to quit teaching (at age 71, incidentally) when he felt he had run his course in the classroom. He probably hadn’t, but he I admire him for having such self-awareness and being so honest with himself. It’s what we now call being a reflective practitioner, and good teachers have always done this. Therefore what we do can change, but there is also consistency in what it is to be a true professional.

This is where meaningful professional learning comes in. We, as teachers, need to stay current in our practice the same way that medics need to keep on top of new developments in treatment and pharmacology. Evidence is key. Here are three things that I’ve changed about my craft that came after serious reflection and engagement with educational research:

  • Marking: I loved (and I choose that word deliberately) forensic marking. It made me feel that I was doing my job well, and that my pupils respected me for my work ethic and commitment to them. It gave me lots of lovely data and – I mistakenly believed – made them better at what they do. Now I have read more, I realise that written feedback is limited and my lessons could have been better if I’d planned (and read) more, rather than dedicating too much of my time to marking. I now follow Dylan Wiliam’s ‘four quarters marking’ regime and everyone is better off for it.
  • Feedback: related to the above, my feedback came mainly through my pen. I was fast at turning around essays (always back the next lesson) but I now see that live feedback is much better. I am seeing more tangible learning gains by oral feedback on the spot than I am from my trusty red pen. Whole class feedback has been a revelation to me and I strongly recommend it.
  • Peer and self-assessment: again, related to the above, I was always distrustful of these practices as I thought they were for show and were actually treated with disdain by pupils. That’s probably true if they are done badly (as always happens when you do things in a tokenistic way). However, training pupils to be discerning critics of their work can come through practice of evaluating their peers’ work. Done well, it can lead to greater insight and progress than having yet another piece of work marked by me. Without it, four quarters marking falls down.

So am I the same teacher? I certainly hope not. I also hope I won’t be doing things the same way in ten years’ time. Great teaching is about evolving your practice. It terrifies me to think that teachers plateau after only three years, as David Weston’s work with the Teacher Development Trust shows. Don’t let that happen to you.

What does this mean for school leaders?

Change is an ever-present word in leadership conversations. In fact, the Standards for Leadership and Management in Scottish education put change right at the heart of it:

“Leadership is central to educational quality. Leadership is the ability to: develop a vision for change, which leads to improvements in outcomes for learners and is based on shared values and robust evaluation of evidence of current practice and outcomes; mobilise, enable and support others to develop and follow through on strategies for achieving that change; Management is the operational implementation and maintenance of the practices and systems required to achieve this change.”

Therefore the same golden rule applies to schools as well as teachers: change comes from knowing that we can always be better, and must move in that direction. Bill Clinton once said that you can have good politics, or good policy, but without both you can’t have good government. The same is true for school leaders. What you do and how you do it are equally important.

Some key points:

  1. Accept that change is inevitable, but aim to control the extent, pace and timing. Too little leads to stagnation, too much leads to chaos. You will see things that you need to change, but you will probably also have to change things that you like too. The key is to recognise the need, choose the moment, and don’t break the speed limit.
  2. Develop a culture of professional learning that embraces change. The teachers in your school need a mindset where they recognise that their practice needs to evolve. The Wiliam mantra is invaluable: improvement doesn’t come from inadequacy, but from the certain knowledge that we can always be better at what we do. So be very careful about how you use the word ‘improvement’ – never make your staff feel that it is motivated by a feeling that they are not good enough.
  3. Are you still the same teacher? I hope not – but how do you know? Do you remember what it’s like to teach a full timetable? If you’re asking teachers to mark a lot of books, ask yourself when you last marked a set of books? I have yet to come across a teacher who didn’t value a senior leader who led by example. What example are you setting?

So is it still the same ship?

The ship has changed in its constituent parts, but its core purpose and overall identity are the same. This is how I view teachers and schools. Throughout their lifespan, a teacher and a school will have the same overarching purpose. Yet how they achieve this will be in a state of constant evolution, and at times it may need revolution. Change fatigue is a serious issue for teachers, but so too is stagnation. Deng Xiaoping tried to bring order to China after the ideological upheaval of Mao’s long tenure, and his maxim was “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mouse.” I don’t mind what the answer is to the Ship of Theseus dilemma, but if it still sails well then I’m fine with that.

Further reading

Five great books on school leadership: