Accentuate the Positive

I recently started the postgraduate qualification for the Scottish Qualification for Headship (SQH).  I rather surprised myself by applying to get on the course as I have always been adamant that Headship wasn’t for me, and I was equally surprised to be accepted onto the course.  Very quickly though the surprise passed and the terror kicked in as the course reading list arrived and the dates for submissions were shared.  I was also starkly aware of the 20 years that had passed since graduation and how difficult I found it to get back into close reading and as for academic conventions of writing….

I often talk of the fear of  the Scooby Doo moment, where I am unmasked as a fraud and am heard to utter “I’d have got away with it too if it weren’t for those meddlin’ kids!”  What was interesting though as I met with the rest of the course cohort was that was a common thread.

Partly I’m sure this is to do with the constant evaluation and reflection we undertake as a profession, coupled with the sure knowledge that there is always more we could do if  only there was another couple of hours in the day.  I do wonder why we are so hard on ourselves.  Would we accept that level of negatively focussed reflection from our pupils or wouldn’t we be encouraging them to find their strengths and celebrating them.  Even when we do talk about our strengths they are rather dismissed with a self deprecating  “I’m all right at that I suppose”.  We use self evaluation a lot in school and we are honest with ourselves about identifying strengths and areas for development.  What we definitely do not do, is celebrate our strengths as much as we should.   Although we do try there is definitely more work we could do in this area and something I am considering as I broaden my reading into critical reflection.  I also undertook a 360 evaluation with a selection of staff and the findings were very interesting (which may have rather prompted the post about accentuating the positive!)

One of the things we are beginning to change to accentuate the positive is the way we approach classroom observations.  We currently have a minimum of three per year, two observations by SMT and one peer reflection visit.  We aim to keep three but change to one SMT visit and two peer reflection visits.   What we have been trying out this year is not to fill in a feedback form based on the teaching we saw in the lesson rather we focus on the learning of the children as the beginning of our conversation and it is the record of this conversation that completes the paper trail.  This has been giving us a much fuller understanding of the work in the classroom rather than simply a snapshot and I feel causes less stress for teachers being observed as, through the conversation, we can share a clearer picture of the work in the classroom.  For peer reflection visits we have already made changes to ensure that teachers are not asked to feedback to their colleagues rather they use their peer visit to reflect on their own practice and then use their personal evaluation blog to begin a discussion about the impact on their own practice.  I will maybe write a bit more about this as it extends throughout the year.

In order to free up time for effective peer reflection visits our illustrious head thought about some of the other things we do and thought about streamlining other areas of self evaluation.  We currently meet selections of children for what we call “a guid blether” and what we aim to do is streamline this blether with the peer reflection so that our illustrious head and myself can arrange times to go into class for the better with the children which would in turn release the teacher to  undertake a peer reflection visit without being constrained by non class contact timetables.  Some staff have already undertaken reflection visits with our inclusion teacher and found them to be very interesting and impactful.

Every Day is a School Day

I like learning new stuff.  Over the last couple of months I have learned loads.  Easily the best fun was a mountain bike skills weekend which, if you read my previous post on failure, was clearly long overdue.  The leader was great. Started the day by finding out what we wanted out of the session and then we went for a quick cycle over mixed terrain until he got a broad view of our skills base.  After some theory and demonstrations of particular skills we got going with drop offs and technical climbs, manuals and rock chutes.  Pretty quickly had a group of us peer assessing in pairs and providing group feedback; using technology to capture technique and asking for our individual assessment of skills and then providing focussed feedback for us going forward.

He was quite clear that no matter how many things we identified as being wrong   we should be focussing on one small aspect of improvement at a time.  He used lots of praise targetted specifically at individuals and challenged us appropriately to advance our skills with more tricky examples. He also decided late in the day not to allow us to attempt an even bigger obstacle as he recognised we were tired and losing focus.  He then insisted we all finish the day with a coffee, some cake and a chat about what we had taken from the day.

We have a number of development teams working this session and I am leading on assessment.  To get started we created a mind map of our current practice.  This should give us a clearer overview of what has built up over the previous years and look to see what can and should be streamlined and whether there are any gaps in our assessment procedures.  If you have a spare minute or two to have a look and offer any feedback I would be really grateful. I have linked a prezi version of the image below .

New Beginnings

Inservice day done and first week with the children are complete. It’s always a thought to get back into the term after the long and very enjoyable summer holidays and like every school we really hit the ground running.  There is always a vast amount of information that needs shared across the whole staff in a short space of time and our illustrious HT and I were chatting about how daunting this must be as a probationer teacher; goodness knows it’s hard enough to process and retain even when you have been doing the job a wee while.

We have three probationer teachers with us this year and a new teacher in the nursery class which means that over 25 % of our teaching staff has changed this year.  Some of our staff attended a 3 day course on Designing for Learning during the summer break and were keen to use some community builders that they had learned with the staff and we were encouraged to share our name, something interesting about our name and something you would recommend from your holidays. From those three innocuous questions and the little bit of banter and discussion that led from it, to my shame, I learned more about some of our staff team than I had known after working with them all last session. It’s not that we hadn’t talked, of course we had, but we had only spoken about work and the children they worked with and not about them as people.

Teaching is a personal job and it relies on a whole person working with classes and pupils. I have always been a great believer that the children I work with should know that I am a real person and that our illustrious HT doesn’t just wheel me into a cupboard at half three and bring me out again in the morning. It is also imperative that a work life balance is struck – if all you do is work and sleep than you are not much use to the children in front of you.  We have spoken to all our new teachers about trying to achieve that balance.  Learning to prioritise is key but with out a great deal of teaching experience how do you tell what is more important when everything is new? I will consider it one of my key roles as a mentor to assist in this prioritisation and ensuring that whole people with sufficient energy and enthusiasm are working with our children .

PS we also finished our Inservice day watching this which you also might enjoy if you have never seen it before.


I read a few weeks ago Derek Robertson’s post about failure and found it really interesting.  I’m not so sure that the word fail has such negative connotations for children. My own children ( 10 and 8 ) use the words “fail” and “epic fail” in a very interesting way.  When I asked them to explain what was different between a fail and an epic fail in their eyes,  they were happy to supply me with their version.  Apparently a fail only becomes epic if you draw attention to how great you are before undertaking something.  It is not the severity of the consequence that they would consider the difference.  That is a bit different from what my understanding was as I was definitely focussing on the consequence.I was relieved to hear their version, as it downgraded my recent  jump attempt on my mountain bike from an epic fail to just a fail, despite the fact it cost me financially in the shape of a new helmet to replace the broken one and physically; with about an acre of gravel rash.  I think they own the word and by using it in their everyday vocabulary rob it, to a large degree,  of any negative connotation.

Older boy also spends a substantial amount of his time on Minecraft and through information garnered from online conversations with his pals on xbox live and help videos on YouTube they have constructed  fantastic online shared playgrounds and are continually experimenting and learning from each other.  What one knows by teatime – everyone knows by bed time.  They don’t  consider anything they undertake to be a failure beyond the fact that they need to make improvements.  Quite clearly they do not assume that they are failures just because they need to adapt, develop, rethink and restart.

Residential Experience

I am writing this with bleary eyes as I have spent the last three days away on a residential experience with our own p7s and their peers from the rest of our cluster schools.  This was the first time our cluster of feeder primaries had decided to join together and approach a residential as a transition experience.  All our daily activity groups were mixed between primary schools and we returned to school groups for eating and sleeping. Staff from the associated secondary school came and stayed and met many of the children who will be joining them after the Summer.  All in all a worthwhile experience and we will have an evaluation out to children over the next couple of weeks to hear what their thoughts are. I think that taking other people’s children on an experience like this is one of the most tiring and stressful things you can do as a teacher. Enjoyable certainly but man, I hardly slept a wink listening out for noises in the night and there can’t be many more disturbing phrases than “Mr McLaren – someone’s been sick on the floor!” (fortunately I have had clinical waste handling training and it was only a little anyway….)

We set up a blog to try to give parents and carers a wee flavour of what was going on and uploaded as many photos as we could throughout the two night stay and you are welcome to have a wee look.  I am hopeful that each school, now that they are back will manage to write a wee post about the experience of their children and add some photos from the range of cameras that were floating around.  They way the organisation worked out meant that most of the staff attending led one group out of the 11 activity groups so most of my photos were taken of the same group and this was replicated across all the groups so the blog might be a nice central location for all schools to upload a gallery of photos as well and leave the blog as an archive of their trip.


And away we go again! This year’s primary7 pupils have all changed their blogs into the appropriate profiling theme and their teachers and me are helping them put the beginning touches to their profile.  We are keeping it nice and simple to start with. Children write a post about a piece of learning that they think is of a representative standard and add the correct tags. They then upload a digital copy of their work (scan, photo, mp3 whatever) and insert it into the post as evidence. Finally they insert a hyperlink to the appropriate  experiences and outcomes section of the Education Scotland website. Simples! Here is a quick screenshot of the beginnings of an actual profile post.

Below I have embedded the help videos I made after a session in each class.  They are a little rough and ready but they are there for the children to refer back to as they write each subsequent post.  If you have any use for them please feel free to help yourself

Reading for Information

Just thought I would share a couple of interesting things I stumbled across this week.  A couple of posts ago I was talking about poverty and the impact upon attainment and as we were discussing the idea around the staff our p1 teacher pointed me in the direction of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and particularly the Interactive Mapping Tool.  Clearly you should just stop reading my post and go and have  a look at the area you teach in ………………..

I also found out this week that I can use my library membership to access subscriptions to a range of magazines for free on my ipad and Kindle Fire HD through a partnership with Zinio (Apparently a partnership across North America, Canada and the UK). I now have subscriptions to a range of magazines from New Scientist through National Geographic to Classic Rock magazine. As if you needed another reason to join your library but there you go!

A Belated Happy New Year.

Like many folks I started the new year with a simple resolution. “More Fit Less Fat” is my mantra for the moment and 21 days after starting I am still progressing.  I am aware that the New Year is more than 21 days old but there was Christmas cake left and the selection boxes were literally throwing themselves at me….

I am using an app called My Fitness Pal and I am amazed by what it does for me. I tell it how much weight I want to lose and how much exercise I commit to and it tells me how much I should eat.  During the day I log all the food I eat and it works out calorific content, balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat and then shows me graphs and charts of my progress. 

Obviously I could trim this all down to just “Eat Less and Move More” but the technology is adding something for me and that’s key for all technology I think. Is it adding anything? The answer might be entirely different for each person – my wife couldn’t be bothered with all the adding and scanning and tracking but then she doesn’t need to anyway but one of my pals is finding it really helpful….

How far away is an app that does this educationally for you? Explain what you need to learn, how many hours you have to study and it will provide exercises, activities, explanations, put you in touch with other people studying the same as you and offer collaborative tasks, assess and track your progress and supply you with reports. Like a fitness app it could monitor your blood pressure and record your temperature to make sure you were healthy, track your eye movements to make sure you were paying attention (as an aside my uncle’s new car monitors his driving habits thousands of times a second, recognises when he is getting fatigued and a cup and saucer flashes up on his dash encouraging him to take a break!) and play soothing music to help you concentrate and and and and……


One of the main aspects of my job is tracking attainment and trying, with the staff and our illustrious HT, to establish ways to improve attainment and achievement.  If you have read my blog before you will be aware of the PIPS and Incas information that we have been looking at as well as the ongoing conversations and CT evaluations and I happened to be looking over the  SSLN publications and my eyes kept returning to this from chapter 2.

“2.3 Attainment by Deprivation
Pupils from areas of least deprivation2 continue to have significantly higher attainment than pupils from the most deprived areas, at all stages. All differences are statistically
significant except between areas of “middle” and “least deprivation” in P7. The largest differences between pupils of different deprivation categories are at S2, where 44 per cent of pupils
from the more deprived areas were “not yet working within the third level”.
Chart 2.4 Percentage of pupils performing “well” or “very well” at the relevant level, by deprivation

Chart 2.4 Percentage of pupils performing well or very well at the relevant level, by deprivation

The magnitude of the task before all of us working in education in the current economic climate is huge as the gap between haves and have nots seems to continue to increase. The fascinating report from Save the children “Thrive at Five – Comparative Child Development at School-Entry age” starkly points out in the executive summary,

“The evidence is clear: many children who grow up in poverty in Scotland are starting school at a serious disadvantage to their classmates.”

More of the Same

An exciting few weeks all in all, culminating in an evacuation to the town hall and a whole school excursion to the pantomime at the MacRobert.  I have still been teaching classes in the middle stages, as well as the p6 class I teach on a Thursday, how to use 2DIY to create their own games.  We would love to be able to share our games on class blogs but there seems to be some issue with permissions which is currently preventing us from doing so.  The glow help forum has been looking into it and our local Glow key contact has been adding his expertise so hopefully there will be  a solution soon as the children would love some feedback on their creations.
We are also extending the use of 2DIY into the early stages and we have begun to teach both p1 classes how to create their own drag and drop games and this has proved to be a real hit with them – it has also been a  great hit with the older children having to explain to 4 and 5 year olds how to make games and you should see the strain on their faces as they try to resist the temptation to take over the controls from their wee buddies!

We have also started our p7 profiles and made the necessary changes to the theme and got our photographs and personal statements onto them – this week we will look to getting the learner statements started and begin to add some examples of pupil work with comment.  We have the photocopier linked up to the network so we can scan written pieces and easily link them to individual blogs. I also need to look for a more up to date voice recorder for recording spoken evidence too.

One of my ongoing gripes with this setup however is the inability of Glow to work like my Google Reader aggregator and bleep when anybody updates their blog.  This means the p7 teacher has to manually check for updates which is a spectacular waste of time especially as we move closer to transition and the eportfolios will become a regular part of class and home work.  Apparently there is a workaround in glow but I don’t know how that works so if anyone has any clues……

…..and of course it is now December and there is every possibilty that the PT Early Years will spontaneously combust before the Nativity is ready.

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