Sunday, 18 March 2012

School Inside Out

Today was Forest School day. 

One day a week, the school goes into the woods to learn outdoors, come rain or shine. They learn about relationships, trust, respect, teamwork, independence, resilience, language, maths, science, oh hang it, you get the picture. 

I'm very fortunate in having a very skilled and experienced class teacher leading this, and it was fascinating to see how they treated the fire pit with respect, how they moved round it, how they put up their tarpaulin. And, how they enjoy themselves!

I got to see all this because, for various reasons, they couldn't go into the woods, but camped in the school grounds! It's difficult not to love this, especially as they all sat round cooking their Damper Bread on willow sticks, drinking hot chocolate from the Kelly Kettle.

It may have been an inside out day, but I think it was also a right-way-up day too.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Be Happy to be Good.

I am very proud of my school.

I am proud of the way it coped with an HMIe inspection when I was off on long term illness. I am proud that the inspector enjoyed the visit and recognised that the steps we needed to take, in order to improve, were ones that we had already identified and begun to action. But, I am still feeling guilty at not having been in post for it! Actually, if truth be told, I am disappointed not to have had the discussions, affirmations and critiques; the experience.

There is no doubt that Inspections have changed, and changed for the better. For my school, and the acting head teacher at least, it was a positive experience. But I have a deep unease that I cannot seem to shake, an unease with the culture of excellence.

I believe we are loosing the holistic approach to excellence to education. The oft repeated mantra, "It's all about the children." is wrong. It's not. We cannot drive eduction by focusing on the needs of the pupils alone. I would argue that you can only improve when the standard of excellence is equally applied to the needs of teachers in their planning, support, training, remit and time.  Crucially, it should be applied to the expectations.

At the present, much is expected of teaching. Excellence is expected. Local education authorities expect new planning across all the whole curriculum, expect the new approaches to be embedded, expect attendance at training initiatives and lessons learned quickly. Councillors expect schools to report more frequently and always in more detail and always expect improvements and success. Government expect 'standards' and 'results' to ever rise, and expect teachers to be supportive and engaged in all new initiatives. And head teachers are seeing their email boxes fill up with demands for completed questionnaires, statistical reports, statements, targets, plans and FOI requests. All with the same apologetic voice that still demands the quick, drop-everything-else reply!

All this is expected in an environment that is seeing reduced financial, staff and time resources. In other words, we are having staff hours reduced, budgets squeezed and removed, and more things to change, do, redo, plan, talk about, and precious little time to do it in.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, recorded their dying thoughts in her blog. ( The regret of every male was, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard.All of the men she nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. The top regret of everyone was, significantly,  "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me"

If we haven't the time to do it, if we haven't the staff to do it, if we haven't the funding to do it... we should be happy to be 'good' and cease to worry about being 'excellent'.  We are professionals. We will always want to do our best: for the pupils, for the staff, for the authority, for the country. But, if life has become a constant worry about the 'nots'- not having finished..., not having done..., not having submitted..., not having tried.... - then isn't our pedagogy wrong?

It's not all about the children. Excellence is about education that seeks the best with what we've got.

Monday, 23 January 2012


It's a very concept is simple.

A site that allows you to post a picture and brief blog or caption every day. For free. Yet it fascinating, stimulating, friendly and gloriously creative. It also has intriguing potential for the classroom.

I explained how I came to find it, on my last blog. It was the simple honesty of an outreach support teacher for children who have experienced interrupted learning, working in Edinburgh (

But today, I haven't been able to get the concept out of my mind. How could I use it in teaching and learning?   Straightaway you have to think of child protection, so I won't have individual blips, but a class one administered by myself or the classroom teacher. 

Here are some ideas, please help me and add to the list.

  • record the changing seasons- a tree / view every day.
  • record the weather at the sometime each day.
  • show the classroom as it changes with a topic.
  • track the progress of something! This could be a teddy that travels around each day- a focus for discussion or story. We had a dragon that we found in the garden. It always slept while we were there, but each day it moved and we had to find it before and decided what it had been up to. The blips could have been the clue to where to find it.
  • become the focus for maths in the environment, with children taking camera home and bringing in a maths/ environment  pic 0 - shapes, patterns, numbers, direction.
  • find a different road sign a day.
(You notice that you can keep a topic for a few weeks, or months or year)

  • show building work, or the change in your school garden project.
  • pupils bring in a shot of their favourite place
  • we once became accidentally fascinated by the numbers of different  pylons we had round our rural school (13+ different ones)- a picture a day, descriptive writing, maths shapes.
  • a bird of the day in the garden
  • preparations for a school show right from the beginning.
  • has any body a puppy they could photograph every day so we could see how it grew.
  • a science experiment showing plants growing each day.
  • the way the teacher's whisky bottle empties each day
So, can you add to this? Do you use blipfoto? How? Fancy a project?

You might also want to check out this write up

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Lazy Sunday Networks

I really like my Sunday morning. It used to be my serious work day, but that thankfully is all in the past, and the therapy helps it stay there! Nowadays, if I can resist the lure of the duvet, I slip from bed to sit by the window of my flat in the calm of the early day, and look out across the loch and drink some fresh coffee. (French windows on a first floor flat with no balcony!) It's the time when I can catch up on my digital world, and explore new connections suggested by others. It is so relaxing and much fun!

When you work in a very small rural school, you can live the days with little professional or creative contacts. Don't get me wrong, I love my support staff and I am nothing without them. What my clerical does in that office is akin to Hogwart's magic and just as mysterious. Without the commitment and selfless support of my classroom assistants and additional needs support team the classroom teaching would grind into an undignified chaos. We may be only taking about three people here, but remember the 'war lost for a nail'? Together we are Team School.

Yet, teachers need to talk to teachers. It's a pedagogical thing! We know the issues and pressures intimately. There is a real understanding when you listen to other blogs and tweets. There are links and ideas that fascinate us- even when not working! So Sunday morning can be so refreshing.

So what of today? Well, I learned about

Time for fresh air now, and see how my partner is getting on writing her first one woman show! 

PS Taylors - do I get a freebie for the promotion!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

After the chalk dust settles.

I watched a supply teacher work so bravely today. 

It is a difficult group to manage effectively, with intellectual, emotional and behavioural needs.  It might be a small class but with ages from 5 to 10, it ranks high in the 'plate-spinning' difficulty ratings. And she stuck to her post.  So I wanted so celebrate her effort and achievements.

It was at the end of the day when we chatted together, midst the detritus of a Friday classroom, that we recognised that we naturally gravitated towards the negative, to what went wrong, to what was difficult, to what hadn't been achieved. We reflected on how it takes so much effort to see what had been achieved and how we can feel that uncomfortably guilty when we smile at what we have done.

Ours is a profession in which there is always more we can do, always more depth possible to planning, always more we can communicate, always more we can innovate. We are always so conscious of what we failed to complete, or attempt, or support that we become almost blind to our considerable and conscientious efforts. 

I hope, that after our Sondheim-like moment in the classroom, we might have gone away thinking, "I did that, and it was good." And, if anyone wishes to comment, I would love to hear what you think we need to do to keep or perspective when all about us is chalk dust.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Weird World of Web design

If an idea needs the 'right time', then so does software. For me, this is especially true for web creation software.

Three years ago I used iWeb to design a school site which was quite successful. But. The local authority server couldn't allow comments on the blog feature, which significantly reduced the value of that feature. So I did what I have always found as a useful technique. I prevaricated.

The problem was that I couldn't find a true WYSIWYG designer for mac that allows you to fully control the layout, unlike iWEb. Since then, several products have grown up and become useful alternatives to the Apple's good, but unrefreshed, and possibly future-uncertain, iWeb. By chance I stumbled on FreewayExpress in the AppStore when it was on offer. I have now used it to design a personal website (details when launched later) and have found it a fairly useful bit of kit.

Freeway allows you to use template, adapt template or start from scratch. Now I am tempted to say it is intuitive, but that's because I have forgotten the early attempts to understand the jargon, that isn't always explained, and to find out the 'exactly how' steps that I needed to follow. For example to insert a graphic into a cell in a table (took me a time to discover you could!) requires you to click to insert text, select insert graphic item, ctrl+click once on the graphic, insert graphic and click, then adjust with scale+pad. A button would be useful!

So although not exactly always intuitive, once mastered, or at least grasped, it's quite comfortable to use. Fortunately you can google most questions and find an answer on their good community pages or support site. There are also a host of useful 'actions' (extra bits of programs) that have been developed by a growing number of users.

I have upgraded to Freeway Pro (and there's a reduced price for education) but I'm not sure it was wholly necessary. There is more control, especially for the very experienced, which I ain't. I also wish I could find an easy way to have a blog feature on my website, and an extending and scrolling box so I can add lots of new text without it extending the page down. However, this might be revealing my ignorance of the program or programming!

Recommend it? Yes. If you want more much flexibility than iWeb and less trauma than Dreamweaver then have a go. I have not used Flux, but I can recommend Freeway. Oh, and I have still to make that school site!

Friday, 13 January 2012

How to be an Outstanding Teacher

Book Review
How to be an Outstanding Teacher
David Dunn (Continuum Press 2011)

I'm in the process of returning to work after a virus poleaxed me, and I have to confess that it's daunting. Can I remember how to 'do' it? I turned to this book to help remind me about the core principles and values. It didn't disappoint.
Its chapters summarise the central issues: relationships, planning, personalised learning, AiFL, management, differentiation, questioning, community cohesion, starters, pleneries, homework, classroom support and self evaluation and CPD. Designed to show the standards Ofsted would consider 'oustanding', it is as applicable here in Scotland as anywhere. Well worth the price.
Word of advice, to self as to anyone else, try to change one thing at a time!