Tag Archives: Professional dialogue

Maybe swearing will help?

I enjoy reading educational blogs and engaging in conversation about how to best improve outcomes for young people. It is most definitely true that if we were to share everything that we knew or had tried in education, we would be much richer for it. Recently I found myself in a conversation with an educationalist who had views at the other end of the spectrum of where mine are. I mean, scarily so. I’m not saying that mine are right but there was part of me silently screaming ” whit planet are you ACTUALLY on?” Some people involved in education love a label about what kind of teacher they are, or what camp they feel most at home in and it’s very much black and white.
I think I have always thought that given the fact that no one is getting out of here alive, we need to teach in a way that we enjoy and will give the young people the best possible experience.
However, I was reminded that it wasn’t about enjoyment. Not for the teacher, and certainly not for the weans.
Usually most people from the same subject discipline will have similar pedagogical views, particularly in secondary. Not the same delivery style but at least a pattern of thinking to get to the same destination. On this occasion I found myself aghast, no, pure aghast actually, that a teacher with 3 years experience could be so confident that the way they taught was the only
way and they had nothing left to learn. That every child in their class(not their care) was thriving ( really? Petrified with sweaty shirts through fear at the age of 14 is thriving?)There was nothing left to learn indeed.
I think I have learned that I can now listen to people who are so consumed by their opinion and not actually do the gbh that I may wish for them. I don’t feel the need to react to everything and can now pass comment or give my opinion without bursting a blood vessel.
However, I never take for granted my own learning process and how that impacts on the students ( young and not so young) that I am privileged to work with.
But sometimes you do just want to hit someone with a chair.

Christmas Professional Downtime


The last term was a rough one for just about everyone. Stress, illness, dark days and rain. Many meetings were prefaced with “excuse the state of me, I’m nursing a bug”
The start of the holidays saw many people saying I’m just burst. I noticed that even my most energetic of friends were happier to have a night in front of the tv when the usual would have been doing the high kick painting the town a redder shade of red.
It’s not a sign of getting old, it’s maybe just a realisation that we do need to look after ourselves better and charge rather than continuing to run on empty.
This holiday for me , I am going to be honest…..I am 9 days into it and have not looked at an email, piece of paper, or had a work call. It never of fails to make me giggle about the amount of people on social media declaring how long it has been since they looked at work email ….guess what….the world is still turning.
I have spent time with family and friends, we have spoken a lot about teaching and learning. All in a very generic way and believe it or not it has given me plenty of food for thought. Those conversations that give you a what if thought…..
Someone asked me ” what do you do to relax?”
I had to think.
I’ve watched a bit of telly. Most of all I have spent time with people I wanted to. Family and friends whom I often find it hard to see as we are all mostly working parents and resemble burst couches.
Relaxing is an art. I think perhaps a discipline. I hate rules and am not good at following them, however, getting better at switching off has given me a better sense of recharging and clarity of thought.
I’m not sure if the GTCS would sign off 14 days of informal discussion, intercultural understanding and fact-finding ( food and drink appreciation) and blue sky thinking…. But as I look to 2017, I’m excited about the challenges and adventures at work. So maybe the best Christmas professional downtime should count too.

All fur coat and nae knickers

Whit an absolute hoot. I had the privilege of spending 2 days in schools in the south of France doing observations, having professional discussions and setting up training both there and at home.
Teachers had no qualms whatsoever about having 3 of us in the back of the class. I was accompanied by inspectors! (That may have been to keep me in check rather than observe the staff)
I was heartened to see amazing teaching with very little resources. Just lots of tinnies who were engaged and were quite simply a joy. The inspectors were at pains to point out just what a tough area it was and how it was really hard for staff. What I could see were teachers who genuinely cared for their students. The relationships with them and interaction was clearly genuine and there was a real affection and respect. If this was one of their “tough schools” it was nowhere near the definition of tough I have.
I secretly loved that in one particular school there was no IT. I loved that they had handwritten everything on the wall in that beautiful French script. I loved that primary fives could split up a sentence in a way that reminded me of my time at University in France. (Grammar geek)
Listening to the teachers talking in English was a hoot. Straight away I was able to identify solely from the vowel sounds where they were from. The pronunciation of eggs was also hilarious. One teacher pronounced orange is aw-ray-jay and one couldn’t make up his mind about Mom or mum. I was desperate to tell the weans the word for Granny! There was a debate about what was best, american English or British English, I was asked which one I spoke. Actually nearly fell over.
Some of the teachers had spent time either in the USA or in England – and had some fabulous accents – the type you hear on safety announcements in the airport.

However, and this will come as now surprise, same teaching techniques for language acquisition as we use. Imagine! Flashcards, the hungry caterpillar, paired speaking, oral feedback, songs, visual cues….
When some of them asked me a question there was much hilarity! Even by dropping my voice and doing my best received pronunciation they still laughed!
Like many of my own students, they were used to hearing perhaps only their teacher – again similar to my time in China- the first native speaker they hear? An old bird from the west coast.
I spoke French with them and they were just tickled pink. Asking questions about nessie, and where abouts in England Scotland was (!)
The conversation with the teachers and inspectors was somewhat different. The general feeling of being scunnered was in evidence.
We talked round professional development structures and lack thereof. I suppose I hadn’t realised just how invested we are (or should be) in what we do. My colleagues were shocked to find out that we were responsible for maintaining our development records and surprised that we would be prepared to go out on a saturday and twilight courses for further learning.
We discussed parental involvement, rote learning, transitions, curriculum and teacher training.
I know we often complain about things in the profession but I was proud to be able to talk about the achievements in Scottish Education – sometimes you need take a big step out to look in and realise it’s not as mince as you would think

I think they enjoyed the chance for a moan – don’t we all – about professional recognition for what they do, how they are viewed nationally and what they would do if they had the chance. The day was too long, they would welcome school uniform, they would like improved conditions for their wee people.
Couldn’t help but ask what they were doing about it, to which they laughed and said but it’s not like that here.
We talked about how there are good intentions and big announcements but the practicalities may not be as well thought through – I translated “all fur coat and nae knickers” as an adequate sum up of it to which ensued some proper tena lady moments.
I guess it’s quite easy to see, good teachers will always be good teachers no matter where you drop them.
Loved it.

Reasons, Seasons and an Academic Session


The start of a new term is always exciting. For the weans and for staff too. There can often be that excitement of meeting new staff and seeing what they bring to the school dynamic. Over the past few days of INSET and first official day back at the ranch I found myself on the phone to friends I have met through teaching but funnily enough, I will rarely see them during the holidays.
It’s not because I don’t want to, but I think as we all go off and lie in a dark cupboard, listen to whale music and do a bit of IV appreciation of Mr.Hendricks we attempt to switch off a wee bit.
However, I would run through walls for these people at work.Why? Because they would do the same for me and professionally we bring out the best in each other.
There really is nothing like looking at the way they interact with children. And thinking ” I want to do that”
These teacher friends are the keepers. The ones you find yourself naturally gravitating towards to get the most magical things done for the weans. It’s that first flush of energy and realisation that these people are friends and for a reason. The ones that you actively make that effort to see surfing the academic session outside of school, usually to talk about work, to bounce ideas off, to get their opinion and to laugh ( and often cry) with.
The ones who make you up your game, who make you laugh and similarly have your back when you need it. And yes, it can be messy, it can be an absolute riot when personalities collide but then you would always want to look back and say -we had a go! Developing positive relationships with colleagues can only have a positive impact for the way we work with our young people.
I still wake up most days thinking ” yes…….still love it”

Working with people for a season can be challenging. Sometimes it is because we know they are not staying, we don’t give them a chance. No running through walls for them. Sometimes they don’t give us a chance as they know they are not staying. However, we can’t help but be affected by another addition to the staff whether it is positive or “interesting”Sometimes, they are happy to ride on your success and pick your brains then ride off into the sunset. Perhaps the natural reaction is for a timberland suppository but really everyone just wants to feel valued, appreciated and looked after.

A conversation with someone I would run through a wall for ended up with us talking about two NQTs. He told me he had been speaking to them and was telling them how much he was looking forward to working with them and that he had heard lots of great things about them. He reminded me that it was important to let the pastoral side of leadership come through too. I think you can see the reason teachers you click with and the season teachers.

I’m part of the most fabulous educational family where I have met the most wonderful friends who inspire me to do better every day. And I am indeed very glad. The heart is indeed an organ of fire.

Mammy points -8 not crying at the gate and cake making
Manolos -6 spent day in sandals but the red sparklies were out later…..
methodology – lots of professional dialogue round it therefore it is a start!

It’s good to talk…


It’s good to talk as the advert used to say. I have not really found the inspiration or perhaps the inclination to write for a bit as I have been engaged in various conversations for about 2 months. I guess I was out there living it rather than observing or waiting for it to happen to me. So many times I have heard myself saying I have a blog piece cooking, then I would get scunnered and think I’ll not bother. The more I think about the various conversations I have, then I think they would form a good platform to build on for reflection and going forwarding the blog this summer.
So thinking about one of my favourite subjects:poverty and education. I was at a round table discussion and we were asked to consider how the poverty agenda prevented us from delivering language learning in schools.
So, having taken the fork out my eye,mopped the blood up from my ears and took pins out of the voodoo doll I had under the seat, I said nothing.
“You are very quiet” it’s hard to talk when you have taken a vow of silence and are simultaneously doing your best Kevin the teenager impression by rolling your eyes and feigning indifference.
And then just like the anger character in inside out, I blew. Beautifully so with a very polite, “really? What is actually wrong with you?” Or something equally as articulate.
You see, I am sick of the this bandwagon. Weans in poor areas can’t learn. End of. Why do we give them creative subjects? Why do they need a language? What is the point of learning about history when everyone is deid?
Why should the fact that we are teaching in areas of social deprivation have any impact on our ability to offer parity of curriculum as their pals 15minutes down the road?
So the dander was up and I was on for a “discussion” And I believe there were some golden nuggets …..My Big agenda in learning is that everyone is able to access a language on their learning and the poverty is not about the learners. The poverty is very often OUR poverty of learning. Our poverty of aspiration,our poverty of vision and our poverty of taking a chance.
I read a great quote about how community is what lifts children out of Hayley….well, we need to be that community. We need to be able to deal with the problems right in front of us. If young people come to school hungry, then we need to feed them. If staff don’t see a point in young Pepe learning a subject then we’re dot make sure that attitude is challenged.if staff are not at the top of their game, we need to support them properly to make sure they are. ( or am I being 50 shades of black and white?)
Headlines in newspapers about provisions for children in deprived areas don’t help. Headlines about the withdrawal of support for things in areas of deprivation don’t help.
Headlines about giving more money to schools in areas of deprivation don’t help.
If we keep banging on about poverty and deprivation preventing learners from learning, all we are doing is reinforcing the label.
So back to the chat…..
I argued that we had to take the poverty agenda away from our ability to deliver quality learning experiences for our young people.
Teachers who are motivated, supported,connected and encouraged will make sure the young people in their care are looked after,stimulated and encouraged to do their best. They will make sure they pushed to achieve and attain to their very best.
Equality of curriculum and excellent teaching…..
I do love a chat.

Are you singing yet?


How many times do we tell people we are fine? How many times do we reply to the question of how are you with fine? It’s all just fine isn’t it?
Well maybe it’s not.
Strange week in education for me and I suppose one of those weeks where I saw lots of teachers who were clearly not fine and just existing because it was easier than admitting that their soul wasn’t singing.
I can’t imagine how hard it must be to carry on day in and out feeling so frustrated and just being fine.
There were a lot of conversations like that this week.
One of them was with one my students who decided that the profession wasn’t for her. She was knackered, done in and just had no joy. It wasn’t just exhaustion from the preparation, teaching, course work etc, it was exhaustion from being sad and unfulfilled. Her mentor in school was such an incredible support to her and spoke of how she had stopped smiling. We had a laugh at how a lot of the senior management never smiled as they were stressed out most of the time whereas most of the staff were smiling as they we happy being in class ( and let’s be honest, study leave. Say no more)
When my student told me she just wanted to stop, you could see her physically relax. She still wants to work with young people but not as a teacher. I think she has a wee song but she’s not quite singing. Understandably lots of people were a bit surprised and were telling us that she should just stick it out. What, to be another of the “fine”brigade? When challenged about retention and completion numbers, all I could offer was that I was more concerned that my student was ok and that she had made the right decision for her and her family. We don’t have inspired learners if we don’t have inspired teachers with their soul singing, no?
Another of the fine brigade was a teacher and friend of mine who clearly had not been singing for a while. It was a hard conversation as it always can be with friends when you ask about work.”aye it’s fine, going ok” I’m sure it is, and I’m sure you’re bored out your nut. do you wake up and feel excited going to work?”
I always feel sad when the answer is no.
Am I one of only a few people who wake and think ya dancer?
Here was a teacher with a wealth of talent but scunnered and a bit ground down. Not with the learners, but with the paperwork, the admin, the huftae elements. We talked round the areas of teaching and learning that made our soul sing and what had inspired us and more probably who. Stripping it all back raised a smile and it was almost like watching a light go on. ( just the way my student had physically relaxed) I suppose sometimes I am a bit too cut and dried (and as I’ve written before, -50 shades of black and white as one friend describes me ) but I genuinely believe if you are not happy,you can’t give of your best to the wee people who need you to. However, the decisions to whether you are just going to continue to be fine is a hard one. It’s probably an easier one but not really something that helps you to grow or sing.
Coffee and chocolate helped the conversation, doodles of where to go next and some oasis playing in the background made for a different kind of informal professional discussion but a productive one.
Calculated gamble with the cut and dried discussion paid off. A bit of reflection, a bit of action the next day and a proper pedagoo moment that saw this teacher do a bit of a victory dance ( oh yes) with the class. Soul maybe not singing just yet, but most certainly humming the tune.
You get what you give as the new radicals said. Given the amount of time we spend at work, it’s important it makes your soul sing,no? 🎼🎡🎢

What if they don’t speak to me?



Working with student teachers over a long period time has seen every question about teaching thrown at me that I can think of. I suppose deep down we are all worrying about the same things:what if no one speaks to me? Where do I sit in the staffroom?what if they don’t take me seriously?
Here’s a tip:move to a country where it is totally different to the system you are used to working in and watch your confidence run for the door quicker than the Boxing Day sales fanatics.
I was the newbie. 5 years teaching experience and ready to take on the world. However I had to learn to bend a bit and work with staff to effect change. Little ones.
What if no one speaks to me? Yes, this would be the first time I had ever been targeted for being Scottish. Ragin,com.
My accent and English was not correct I was told by my Chinese colleagues. This was despite the fact I was using my best elocution and interpreters voice. My Chinese colleagues were intrigued by my vowel sounds and I was determined I would not develop a clipped accent. How often do we hear people with teacher voices???
I stuck to my scottish guns and they soon got used to it. I suppose when you stop hearing and start listening……
Where do I sit in the staffroom? Well there wasn’t a staffroom and I missed it. I had come from a big school that both a main staffroom and a subject base. I loved the blethers over tea and the sharing of ideas….this was impossible. The politics of where to sit was of course a major thing when it was social gatherings but more on that another time.
What if they don’t take me seriously? Well, I dug my trenches for the long haul and eventually they had now other option but to take me seriously.
I had to convince my VSO colleagues that what was doing was positive and would have longevity and sustainability.
My placement partner B and I took on the challenge to create a library for the student teachers and teaching staff in the college. We got a room, painted it, furnished it and managed to kit it out with up to date books. We pleaded with all of our friends and families to donate, we made ( handmade) 600 Christmas cards and sold them back home to pay for resources.
The staff were aware of what we were doing but viewed is suspiciously.
We created displays on walls,named shelves after our sponsors ( i.e. our plans) catalogued everybody and created a cpd section.
We had a grand opening and the staff were genuinely quite taken with it. We had modern books, audio resources, music, posters,games and space. Tables, shelves and a place students could come as well as staff.
By the time we had opened the library and resource centre, staff had already started to work collegiately and look at how to take forward communicative methodology, self evaluation and learning to learn.
We put a kettle in the library. And mugs…….
And I was asked if I would consider extending my contract.