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Pay it forward⤴


We often talk about the impact that we as teachers have on young people. Helping them to see their potential, encouraging their success and supporting them to achieve their very best. But this post recognises the encouragement great teachers and leaders often give to colleagues, and the importance of those individuals who go beyond their day job, to take time to build others up and inspire through formal or informal mentorship.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to support aspiring teachers, student teachers, early career teachers, experienced teachers, new and established principal teachers over the last few years. It’s always a privilege to be able to tease out their confidence and help them to see their own strengths. Often the conversation is all they need. The opportunity to share and clarify their thinking which gives them confidence they need in whatever situation they find themselves in. I’ve listened to worries, concerns and frustrations. I’ve been asked searching questions or my opinion on moral dilemmas. I’ve offered advice on application forms and supported individuals prepare for interviews. I’ve reminded colleagues of their worth, of gaining perspective and the need for balance. I’ve been there when colleagues have been successful and shared disappointment when something was not meant to be. I hope I’ll always be someone who makes time for this and who colleagues feel they can come to for this support. Because in my own career, this has made a huge difference to me.

All teachers are truly brilliant, but sometimes in education, you will find a small number of individuals whose values, energy and purpose totally aligns with your own. You will look up to them. You will be inspired by them. And you will learn so much from them. Find these people, hold them close and use their experience to help you be the best you can be.

For me, many of these inspirational mentors are people I haven’t even met! But they build me up. They keep me right. And their support, when I’ve needed it, has been invaluable. From taking time for a phone call to talk through an issue I’m experiencing in school, to giving me honest, direct and practical feedback on an application form. They’ve thought of me and given me opportunities to shine. They’ve connected me to other colleagues. They’ve encouraged me when I’ve doubted myself. They’ve been a cheerleader when I’ve been successful, and even more so when I’ve not been experiencing success. They’ve helped me to become the teacher and leader I am today. And I’m incredibly grateful for that. These acts of mentorship don’t need to be formal. They very often aren’t. They may not officially be mentors, but are instead good people, being good role models and being incredibly good with their time. Through them, others are being given opportunities to thrive. Colleagues are inspired to be even better. And ultimately it is our young people who benefit from this act of paying it forward.

Always remember to look back. Never be too busy. Or too important. Because not long ago the person asking for the help was you.

Have a great week.

An education⤴

from @ lenabellina

I tell you

I teach you

The facts, the information, the knowledge.

I repeat, review, re-phrase

Recognise the resistance

Re-double my efforts.

I get frustrated.

Why can’t you

Do as I say

Not as I did?

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes

I can’t bear to see you suffer the same pains

I shudder in the imagining of the same risks

History must not repeat.

Unless it must.

Do the best teachers tolerate this?

Loving so hard that they let go

Never saying I told you so

Having faith it won’t be so

And if it is, just being there

And helping mend those pieces.

The holiday of a lifetime?⤴

from @ lenabellina


And we are off. In the car, en route, unterwegs.

On a journey that we had hardly hoped to dare might happen.

Not the “normal” summer holiday trip in so many respects.

Not the usual first day of the holidays departure, ahead of three weeks away.

Not sitting in the front of the car as the première étape driver…. But sitting in the back while my beautiful learner daughter clocks up miles and experience.

No separately packed bags in the boot for our usual week in France.

And with me not quite the person I was last time I saw family and friends outside Scotland.

But in the car nevertheless. On the way “down south”, lateral flow tests having allowed us an exit pass and with plans to see loved and familiar faces and places.

So much has happened since we last met, as it will have for so many families who experience the first pandemic-delayed re-unions after almost two years, or maybe more.

How will we be with one another? How will we catch up on those conversations round dinner tables and on walks that haven’t happened? How will we fill the gaps left after Zoom calls and WhatsApp calls didn’t quite hit the mark?

I am almost impossibly excited.

I know the danger in this. I know that my tendency to become overexcited and set my hopes too high (which ended up with many a birthday or special occasion of my childhood ending in disappointment) needs to be watched.

I am counting up the things I can tell them about that I am proud of and that have also happened in those 20 months:

The parent, wife and friend I have been; far from perfect but good enough in challenging times for all of us;

(The three people in the car right now, as I write this, will probably never know the depth of my love for them.)

The work I have done in my day jobs to help children who need our professional love the most;

The connections I have made and the invitations I have had, to engage in projects that have helped make Scottish education more equitable and trauma-responsive;

The recognition that I have been granted by the GTCS for values based leadership;

The section of a book that I have written on disability awareness in education, which incorporates my knowledge and experience gained across almost 30 years as a teacher and my recent ADHD diagnosis;

The work that I have done on my Masters in Critical Enquiry;

The Teacherhug radio show that I have curated and presented around teacher wellbeing;

My continued co-leadership, alongside the inspiration and rock who is Christine Couser, of WomenEdScotland, which has flourished as a network and brought increasing numbers of women from across Scotland together, to help one another thrive and connect through values.

I write this not to brag, not in the interests of self promotion. I write it because, for some parts of this year, I couldn’t have brought myself to write it.

I could only have talked about the difficulties, the challenges. Or worse still, not talked at all.

But life is never all good or all bad.

It is both.

The last 20 months have been both.

I have to admit that if ever I have needed to see people who love me for what I am, who won’t judge me and who will still see the parts of me that they have loved and lived with for my lifetime, it is now.

And so for now, I am going to put some things that I can’t control, or solve by endless thinking or worrying, into a box, leave the box on a high shelf and allow my ever busy, curious and intense mind to be intensely busy with other things.

Like dreaming about those hugs, like pondering which beach to swim from first, like deciding what colour to paint my toenails, and like picking which yoga routine to start the day with.

And like remembering to breathe.

Whatever this summer brings you, however you spend it, I wish you peace, joy and rest. If you have been a helper this year, I hope you know how grateful I am.

You do you⤴


Over the last week or so, many teachers finished term for summer. Others will finish in the next few weeks. A well-deserved rest after a year in which the goalposts just kept on moving! It’s been extremely tough and everyone – both young people and staff – need a rest. Many of us are looking forward to chilling out. But this blogpost is a reminder that ‘rest’ looks different for everyone. Each of us will approach our holidays differently. And that is absolutely ok.

For some of us, holidays will mean a change of pace. Some people cope well with going from 100mph 5 days a week, to slamming on the breaks and experiencing opportunities for long lies and lazy days. For others, the transition may be more problematic. It can be really difficult to fill long days when you are used to the routine of school keeping our minds occupied. It can feel strange to slow down and spend time in different ways. To give ourselves permission not to be thinking, doing, or being busy. But instead, to just be. It may be lonely for some. Not everyone is surrounded by friends and family. For many, life might not slow down despite the break from school. That might be appreciated or unwelcome. Parents, carers, or illness might all affect our responsibilities and our experiences of summer 2021. Being tolerant of others’ situations which we may not fully understand, is so important to allow everyone the rest they deserve.

Some teachers need to keep busy despite the break – they like to continue to work, to think about lessons, and use summer as an ideal time to learn. There might be those who want to do planning, buy stationary, set up their new classroom, make posters and create resources. Those like me, who channel their active minds into listening to podcasts, professional reading and webinars because time is limited throughout the year. I find summer a great opportunity to re-energise my practice, challenge my thoughts and develop as a teacher because I have a bit of capacity which isn’t always the case during the intensity of the school year. Please don’t judge those who need this. They are doing what feels right for them.

At the opposite end of the continuum, there are those who don’t want to think about school, education or learning. They need this break in order to recharge. Those who won’t check emails or won’t want to be contacted about school unless a complete emergency. Those who will indulge in life outside education; meals out, holidays, seeing friends and avoiding all talk of when we return to the classroom. This complete detox works for them. And I understand that completely too.

I’ve had various ‘discussions’ with my husband about this. He reckons that I’ll crash and burn. That I’m not giving myself time to switch off. That come August I’ll be exhausted. That others will feel they should be doing more. But I can’t affect how others feel. I can only control the controllables. And I’ve learned that this is good for me. This is me. I find that this time of learning and doing very different from school – it actually reinvigorates me and reenergises me so that I can be in a better place for the new school year. I do enjoy doing other things too – drawing, paddle boarding, running, reading – things which keep me doing but allow me to escape elsewhere.

What is important is that you do what’s right for you. Do what makes YOU well this summer.

One of the things which often makes this difficult is comparison.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt

Whilst social media can be a really excellent way of connecting and collaborating in the world of education, it can also lead to a great deal of unhealthy comparison. Teachers regularly post photographs of resources, preparation, planning and ideas they have been developing. More often than not they unintentionally generate a negative reaction despite being posted from a place of positivity. This can be for many reasons but reflecting on the times when my own reactions to social media have been rooted in comparison, I’m almost certain this has landed this way because of my own feelings of insecurity. The way I’m feeling at a certain point, influences my reaction to what I’m scrolling past. But, if as the voyeur, I observe and instead

‘Believe in the goodness of all people. Assume positive intent…’

Mary Frances-Winters

I find social media to be a far better place. It also helps me to remember that Instagram or Twitter only show a snapshot of someone’s summer – the photo worthy, best bits. Beware of this, as it can mask a whole host of other experiences and emotions. It also helps me to filter what and when I choose to post.

Finally, this word. Should. ‘I should really do the dishes.’ ‘I should be seeing more of my friends.’ ‘We should be exercising more while we have the time off.’ ‘I should cook dinner instead of ordering another takeaway.’ ‘I should be starting to think about school preparation.’ It’s hard, but when I consciously tried to remove the word ‘should’ from my vocabulary, I gave myself permission to do what’s right for me.

We are all different. There’s no right way to ‘do’ summer. Please don’t judge how others are spending their break. Please act with kindness and appreciate we all need different things this holiday.

You do you. Whatever helps you to feel recharged and ready to be the best for the young people in August…. Do that.

A response⤴

from @ lenabellina

I read a post yesterday by Professor Neil McLennan. Neil is an education leader, former Young Programme delegate and previous Institute of Contemporary Scotland Young Scot of the Year. The piece is here:


This is my response to that piece.

If you want to know who I am, you can read back through my blog. There is a lot about me here. When I write in this blog, I do so as me; as the voice of the human who has learnt through all of the experiences that I have lived.

If you think that I am writing about you in this piece and feel upset by it, please get in touch with me and tell me how or why. I am very accessible, I believe. You can get me via Twitter, Facebook, probably even my email. If you you are a friend or relative, talk to me next time we meet. Or ask someone else to get in touch with me on your behalf. But all I ask is that you are very specific with what you say and ask me about. Which words, what you think I am inferring and how we can resolve it.

I think that Neil’s piece is very important. Over my almost thirty year career in education, I have worked in many schools and systems. I have had many, many experiences and I have heard many, many stories. I seem to be someone in whom certain types of people confide.

I do agree with Neil that Scottish Education right now needs scrutinising in terms of the power relationships, professional relationships and personal relationships between various actors and agents. Lots of other people agree with this. The recent OECD report has much resonance in terms of its observations on actors and agency.

I spent much of the last two years trying to understand the issues addressed by Neil through work at national level on trauma responsive systems and leadership. I even had my half hour of attention from John Swinney around this.

For those who don’t know, creating trauma responsive systems is not simply about doing training on the effects of trauma on the brain, or having co-regulating adults in schools to help children calm down. It is about addressing exactly the same issues that Neil highlights.

I am not doing the work around trauma responsive systems any more, however. It seems as if I wasn’t quite what people wanted after all. Am I a bit sad about that? Well yes, as I thought I was doing a good job.

But my sensitivities aside (although I will say that I don’t apologise for being sensitive) I want to finish by sharing a piece I wrote a year ago. I stand by all I wrote then and I think that much of it offers a curious reflection as to why the systemic change we need isn’t going to be easy to bring about. But it is necessary. Because if the adults take too long to understand what is going on and change, the consequences for the children of Scotland will be unforgivable.

Here is my piece:


Ps In the interests of openness, I know Neil through mutual friends, through meeting him at conferences and through the Remembering Srebrenica Project which explores how we learn from what happened in Bosnia in the 1990s and prevent atrocities happening again in plain site.

Why high expectations alone are not enough…⤴


Expectations. Noun. Plural a belief that someone will or should achieve something.

As teachers, it’s easy to say we have high expectations. High expectations of behaviour. High expectations of uniform. High expectations of attainment. But what do we mean by this? And is it really enough? This blog explores how we can maximise the impact of our expectations.

The expectations teachers have of their students inevitably effects the way that teachers interact with them, which ultimately leads to changes in the student’s behaviour and attitude. The work of Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen (1968) shows that teacher expectations influence pupil performance. They found positive expectations influence performance positively and they described this phenomenon as the Pygmalion Effect.

The language we use to address students. The way we communicate and model our expectations. The relationships we build to foster trust. The explanations of why we do things this way. The excellent learning and teaching which allows pupils to thrive. The success they achieve, which motivates them to persevere. And the relentless drive from staff for pupils to achieve their potential, all contribute to buy in of these expectations.

Conversely, when we lower expectations, students also respond. But in contrast, when we lower the bar, they often in turn meet that bar, leading to poorer performance. This is known as the Golem effect. Labelling pupils. Setting classes. Expecting less from some learners. Accepting lower standards of uniform or behaviour. Very quickly expectations are diluted.

The trouble with expectations, particularly low expectations, is that they are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Very quickly, students learn to believe they will never be anything other than the ‘lowest reading group’ or that they’ll never have the chance to be in the football team because it’s only for the top pe students. Or the sense of disappointment and upset when academic success is not realised. And when expectations are not met, there is often a tendency for disappointment, anger or even shame. As teachers, we need to manage that. We are experts at finding learners’ individual strengths. Of drawing out the thing that allows them to shine. The area which gives them hope and an opportunity to meet high expectations. Once they experience that, they are hopefully moving in the right direction. Over communicating expectations, sharing them again and again, and modelling how we expect learners to meet them is another helpful way in encouraging young people to meet these beliefs.

Expectations are like a curriculum. We need to teach expectations. If we expect pupils to enter our room calmly and get straight to work on a ‘Do Now’ task, we need to teach learners how to do this and explain WHY this is a purposeful and important start to lessons. If we expect all pupils to wear uniform, then we share WHY this is important for equity and we have contingency measures in place to support learners who may experience difficulty with this by providing uniform items they may be without. Lowering standards is not the answer in my opinion. Instead, encouraging pupils to buy into these expectations as the norm, because we explicitly share the benefits and then supporting them to do so through modelling, practise and putting supports in place to help meet them.

Another consideration should be that expectations are realistic and achievable. Having the expectation that all pupils will achieve 5 highers, is simply not fair, pragmatic or in anyone’s best interests. It will only lead to disappointment and perhaps shame of not meeting this expectation. Despite excellent learning and teaching, all pupils are individuals and are on their own very personal learning journey. Instead, insisting that all pupils try their best at all times, and reach their own potential, is feasible and encourages high standards.

In teaching, we are all well aware that nothing is black or white. There obviously needs to be an element of understanding on occasions when expectations are not met. To dig deeper, to see the bigger picture and understand the context. Then, it is vitally important to put the support in place to allow young people to experience success in meeting the expectation.

Ultimately, as part of a school community, buy into the values and our collective expectations is vitally important to ensure a sense of shared ownership, team spirit as well as fairness. I’d encourage you to consider your own expectations this week – I’ve found it helpful to explore what shapes my values with regard to expectations. As always for me, it’s the dichotomy of ensuring our expectations encourage the very best from learners, whilst caring personally and challenging directly to support individuals to meet these expectations when this proves difficult.

Have a great week everyone. We are nearly there!

Proactive Pastoral Care – Book launch and my contribution around trauma responsive education⤴

from @ lenabellina

On Thursday April 15th, I was honoured to be part of the panel for the launch of Maria O’Neill’s fantastic new book, Proactive Pastoral Care, published by Bloomsbury and available on Amazon.

In my contribution, I built upon Maria’s excellent ideas and suggested how a school community can ensure that it is responsive to the needs of pupils and staff who have experienced trauma.

In what I say, I am indebted to those from whom I have learned above all the many children and families whom I have worked with over many years.

I think it is the best summary I have ever achieved in such a short amount of time of what I fundamentally know about how to make schools the places we need them to be.

I am very grateful to Maria for allowing me to re-share this extract of the recording of the event: https://youtu.be/khiVnzQGp5A

I strongly recommend that you read her book: Proactive Pastoral Care: Nurturing happy, healthy and successful learners https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472980433/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glt_fabc_1KBSSQ6AA6T0YHXG8196

This is my Amazon Review of Maria’s Book:

This is quite simply a book that every teacher and educational leader needs to read. I have a shelf full of fantastic books on how to support the emotional well-being of children and yet not one combines research, evidence and practical reflective tasks in the way that
Maria has managed. The particular strength of Pro-active Pastoral Care is that it has a focus firstly on defining wellbeing and its place in the educational landscape and secondly on evaluating the impact of the work that schools do around the theme. For many years, we have struggled as a profession to know how to measure the wellbeing of the pupils we support; Maria offers tools that allow to do precisely that.

A real act of love that has the power to transform attitudes, schools and the lives of children.

Every cloud⤴


I, like many other teachers across the country, am absolutely shattered. In a year like no other, teachers everywhere have risen to the challenges which we have faced. School closures, online learning, blended learning for those isolating at home. And all this before we even consider the qualifications ACM. We are understandably ready for a holiday after completing our own jobs, on top of setting and assessing, moderating and marking, teaching and learning. But as always, we have adapted, done our best for the young people, and got on with it. And I for one am incredibly proud of our profession, and in particular my department team.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Always one to try and find the positives, I believe that our team are 100% stronger, wiser and most importantly, better teachers for this experience. Never before have we spent so much time as a department, talking about learning and assessment. And this comes from a department who commits most meeting time each week to learning and teaching. We’ve bonded as a team over developing our understanding of national standards, we’ve shared a cuppa and blethered whilst discussing benchmarks, we’ve blind cross-marked in silence and then celebrated when we’ve been concordant. There has been a real focus on understanding the what and why of our teaching. This can only be a good thing.

I am so grateful for the way in which our team have embraced this experience because its been outwith our comfort zone. Never before have the same teachers who have taught the course and built up a relationship with the young person, had to assess their work. There is an enormous pressure when you have supported the young person and know their struggles snd achievements throughout a practical folio. Every teacher in the country wants the best for our young people. So that pressure to get it right, is very real.

I am 100% confident that our assessment decisions are robust, fair and in the best interests of the young people. Yes it has been a different experience this year, but we should take pride in the fact that we know our stuff. We teach these courses day in day out, and we analyse our results and the national standards every year. We couldn’t do our job successfully if we didn’t.

In art and design in particular, there are some changes we have welcomed. The focus on quality not quantity. This has allowed slow careful workers the same opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, process and skills rather than rush to complete a set number of pieces for their folio. This focus on the demonstration of actual learning complexity rather than the quantity of drawings is a positive departure from the checklist mentality.

Similarly removing the pressure to have every piece of art work double mounted has been another way in which precious time has been siphoned. Importantly the opportunity cost of this, is that we can really focus on the learning and teaching allowing pupils to work right up until the deadline rather than leaving a week or so for ‘mounting.’ This is not to say that we don’t take pride in our pupils work and we absolutely want to mount up important pieces and show it off in the best possible way. But this shouldn’t detract from precious learning time for pupils. And doesn’t need to be done for every single piece of work. Any good art teacher can see quality beyond a double mount. And to add to this, it’s more environmentally friendly!

The ACM has absolutely had its flaws. But this blog isn’t about that. It’s about recognising the resilience, strength and determination of teachers across the country to do our best for our young people and get it right to recognise their hard work in a year filled with challenges. When I look at our team, I see teachers who are tired but more importantly, teachers who are more confident in their assessment decisions and who will go into the year ahead, teaching with an increased understanding of the national standards and the curriculum they are teaching. Yes there are flaws in the system, but with a profession so committed to doing the best for young people, I am confident that together we can get it right moving forward.

Thanks for reading! Would love you to unpick any positives from your own subject experience. Have a positive week – we are nearly there!!