Relationship matters….relationships matter

This post was first published on on September 9th 2015.

I think that, strictly speaking, Pedagoo is  meant to be about sharing classroom practice and I therefore have to start with a confession; I am currently not classroom based. Those who know me well will know that I have mixed feelings about this. While I am loving my secondment to the local authority central team, I am missing the contact with pupils. But that for another post…

Last week I had the tremendous good fortune to attend three fantastic events within two days. On the surface, the events appeared to relate to three quite different themes. The first was our launch of our Authority Self-Harm and Suicide guidance. The second was a learning session for support assistants on behaviour, delivered by two representatives from Education Scotland. And the third was a day of Leadership training for Argyll and Bute Headteachers. Having had time to digest and reflect on the sessions, it has struck me that there were two key messages common to all three.

The first is about the absolute crucial importance of relationships in education. Ged Flynn from Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity talked about the need for us to make ourselves available to anyone who is struggling to cope. By really listening to the person’s story and helping him/her to find strategies to manage the difficult parts of life, we can literally save a life. Giving the person the time and space to connect with another can make all the difference. Sam March from Education Scotland talked about the vital concept of nurture in helping a young person who is struggling to achieve. He spoke of the ‘turnaround adult’ who can provide a consistent, reliable and predictable relationship in a child’s life. Nurture is about more than being kind to a child; it is about having high aspirations and a willingness and skill to challenge the negative self-image or internal working model that has developed in that child. And Andrew Cubie, on leadership, stressed the crucial importance of getting to know and understand those you are working with and leading. He explained that we need to invest time in getting to understand others, in understanding their DNA and ‘clicking’ with them. He said that the chemistry of a relationship is crucial and that if you are faced with someone whom you initially find difficult, you have to work at understanding them better if you are to succeed together. He advised taking time to “talk out the issues, strategic and other” and to make the difficult relationships better.

This idea of the need to work at our relationships resonated with me. If I have had success as an educationalist, it seems to me that it is often because I have taken time to work at the ‘difficult’ relationships, whether that be with pupils, parents or colleagues. Often another person may present as ‘difficult’ because they represent a different viewpoint and experience to our own; we need to dig deep and look at what that experience is. Thus the ‘difficult’ child who cannot behave may be communicating distress or needing a different type of attention to the others in the class. The ‘difficult’ parent who rages down a phone about the faults of the school may be struggling to cope with a child at home and need the chance to express and work on this. And the ‘difficult’ colleague who resists implementing change for the better because ‘the old ways are the best’ may be feeling hugely insecure about her own capacity to change and need the support of a colleague to take things forward.

I have to confess that Andrew’s talk made me realise that I have probably been more tolerant of ‘difficult’ pupil and parent characters in the past and quicker to criticise colleagues where I have felt them to be putting up barriers. My note to self is to invest more time in developing these relationships and listening more intently to these colleagues in future.

And so to the second key thread touched on by all the speakers I heard last week. This related to the idea that, in order to function successfully as leaders of others, or indeed of our own lives, we need tools and structures that assist us with self-regulation. This might seem obvious; if you do not feel in control of yourself and you aren’t the leader in your own life, then you risk that things won’t go the way you would have wanted. But it struck me that all three speakers mentioned the conscious need to put structures in place around this and not to take them for granted.

Ged Flynn spoke of the need to create plans with young people in distress so that they have strategies that they can draw on to keep them safe. Sam March talked about the need for restorative, solution focused work that clearly identifies interventions that will enable children to move forward. And, perhaps most interestingly for me, Andrew Cubie spoke about his belief in personal development planning. He said that he writes a personal development plan in relation to each project upon which he embarks and it is against this that he judges his personal success within the project. I was surprised to hear that someone with Andrew’s vast experience would feel a need to do this but it also re-iterated to me the importance of attending to our personal self-management. This is not the stuff of therapy or a reactive approach to crisis but the pro-active stuff of life and education.

All three speakers also talked of the need for us to take care of ourselves if we are to provide support and positive role modelling to the children and young people with whom we work. Creating regular opportunities to think about our priorities and values is part of this. So what has stayed with me above all after attending these events? That relationships matter and should be at the heart of education, not seen as secondary to learning but as fundamental to learning. Building positive relationships with others but also building a positive relationship with our own self are crucial to our professional and personal success.

It is not that I didn’t ‘know’ or believe this before;  as a former Dramatherapist I have read the books on Emotional Intelligence, Why Love Matters and the rest. But hearing these three inspiring speakers has reminded and re-enforced the message, giving me the confidence to put it back at the heart of what I do and what I invite others to do.

Ged Flynn is Chief Executive of Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity. Sir Andrew Cubie is an independent Consultant. He was variously Chairman and Senior Partner of a number of law firms, including Fyfe Ireland LLP, having specialised in Corporate law. He holds a number of non-executive Directorships. He has been engaged in education issues throughout his professional career.Sam March is a Development Officer at Education Scotland.


The Greatest Show

I have a new obsession; the film musical ‘The Greatest Showman’.

I took my children to see it last month and we all adored it. Last night we took my husband and he loved it too; we had said beforehand that he was at risk of being excluded from the family if he didn’t but luckily it all turned out ok.

The soundtrack has been in my car and head for the last month and reminded me once again of the power of music, drama and the arts to inspire, teach and enlighten.

In a month where the arts are fighting to survive in schools and society, the need for us to shout about this power is never greater:


I know that the historical accuracy of the story is highly blurred by dramatic licence. I am sure that the actual Mr P.T. Barnum was not quite the poster-boy for inclusion and the flag-bearer for vulnerable minorities that the story makes him out to be (just google him). But in this story, he is in an incredibly well-drawn character; passionate; principled; strong; weak; flawed; wrong and right.

Every song in the film is a hit and I have been thinking about how I could use each one as a teaching tool; either with staff as part of CPD, or pupils, in PSE or an assembly, or both.

Maybe one a month throughout next year?


The Greatest Show

Message: Life is here for the taking. Don’t put it off, seize it.

It’s everything you ever want

It’s everything you ever need

And it’s here right in front of you

This is where you wanna be.



A Million Dreams

Message: Even when life is tough, imagination and dreams can help us find solutions and set us free. Barnum as a child is abused, neglected and orphaned but he has big dreams and forms alternative secure attachments that help him though. There is hope for children who suffer early trauma.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy

They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind

I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy

We can live in a world that we design.



Come Alive

Message: We can beat sadness, low mood and negativity by connecting with others and finding the light and colour in life. There can be sunshine after rain.

‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking

Think of that your only option

But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day

Sun is up and the color’s blinding

Take the world and redefine it

Leave behind your narrow mind

You’ll never be the same.



The Other Side

Message: Be prepared to take risks in order to achieve your potential and find fulfillment. Don’t stay with what is safe and known. (This is a good one for me just now as I try to persuade some staff and pupils to take risks.)

Don’t you wanna get away to a whole new part you’re gonna play

‘Cause I got what you need, so come with me and take the ride

To the other side

So if you do like I do

So if you do like me

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key

Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly.



Never Enough

Message: No matter how much we have, it can feel as if it is never enough. In the film, we see that this is true at times for both Jenny Lind and Barnum. It has certainly been a theme in my life. Interestingly, we discover that Jenny was born out of wedlock and has clearly spent her life looking for something to replace a missing bond; in the film, she seems unable to find a way of healing her internal hurt child and to find a love that might help heal that.


All the shine of a thousand spotlights

All the stars we steal from the night sky

Will never be enough

Never be enough

Towers of gold are still too little

These hands could hold the world but it’ll

Never be enough.



This is Me

Message: We are all beautiful, unique, worthy of love and respect. There is no such thing as normal. There is no need to be ashamed of who we are. Bullies, stop.


When the sharpest words wanna cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me.




Rewrite The Stars

Message: The love that dare not speak its name must be named and celebrated. Race issues back then, LGBTQ issues now; we need to keep changing the world….. and it is not impossible.

How do we rewrite the stars?

Say you were made to be mine?

Nothing can keep us apart

Cause you are the one I was meant to find

It’s up to you

And it’s up to me

No one can say what we get to be

Why don’t we rewrite the stars?

Changing the world to be ours.




Message: Life is never straightforward but it is the most wonderful adventure; to make the most of it we need to acknowledge that it has ups and downs, that we need to take risks but that we also need a stable hand to hold.

Hand in my hand

And you promised to never let go

We’re walking the tightrope

High in the sky

We can see the whole world down below

We’re walking the tightrope

Never sure, will you catch me if I should fall?

Well, it’s all an adventure

That comes with a breathtaking view



From Now On

Message: We can learn from our past mistakes, see what is important and choose to live by our true values and with love. Right now.

I saw the sun begin to dim

And felt that winter wind

Blow cold

A man learns who is there for him

When the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold

Cause from then, rubble

What remains

Can only be what’s true

If all was lost

There’s more I gained

Cause it led me back

To you.


So there it is.

In writing this, I have listened again to all the songs again and I have found lyrics and subtleties that could make me start all over again. I am inspired, moved and amazed all over again.

I know that not everyone likes a musical. That some will find it cheesy. But if not, why not embrace this incredible opportunity to help you develop a culture that celebrates love, life, creativity, diversity, vulnerability and the immeasurable power of the arts?

Same old?

I want to let you into a little secret.

I have a scheme of work that I teach to first years in Drama that I have been teaching since 1994.

It is called Cuddington Manor and the idea, about a haunted house and young person who goes there to try and solve a mystery, was given to me a colleague; I took it and developed it in my early years of teaching in London. For a while most of the ideas were in my head.

Once I became head of department, I had to write a detailed scheme of work and lesson plans for a couple of colleagues who were science teachers but teaching some drama for me.

The scheme has travelled with me through four schools and never failed me. Pupils throughout the UK have loved it and I have loved teaching it to them.

I have refined and added to it over the years, learning from successes and less successful lessons, creating PowerPoints (which weren’t part of our teaching toolkit back in the day), adding learning intentions and success criteria and matching against Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes and Benchmarks.

I don’t do the bit where I turn all the lights off and light a candle any more as I know the janitors would have a collective heart attack.

And I have had to do some research into whether Lords and Ladies of the manor are quite the same in Scotland as England; but then of course there was Monarch of the Glen which re-assured me.

And this year I have made a connection between the work we do on suspense and the murder-mystery genre with Death in Paradise, the hit BBC TV series.

But here’s the thing. I am still pretty much teaching the same thing in the same way as I was nearly 25 years ago, because it works. It works because I teach every lesson with fresh eyes and a passion, confidence and energy that makes the content new and interesting to every child who experiences it. And because I get those motivating, stage-fright anticipatory nerves before every single lesson, no matter how familiar the content.

Let’s not waste paint on walls that don’t need re-decorating (to borrow an image from @therealdavidcameron)

Let’s not re-invent wheels when they still run smoothly and take passengers to where they need to go.





One month in.

Some reflections on having been in my permanent post for a month.

That’s it. No more Acting.
No more imposter syndrome.
No more making excuses.

I am here.
It is different to before. I feel a little more empowered and a lot more privileged to have been chosen to be doing what I am for real.

But some things are no different. My vision. My aspirations. My optimism and passionate desire to make every child and adult in our school community achieve the absolute best they can.

I have been reflecting and looking back over the things I said I wanted to be and achieve as a school leader and I am glad to say that they have not changed:

Everyone must be willing to self-reflect and learn.

We don’t shout at others.

We all get things wrong and need to be able to apologise when we do.

We are all human and being in a position of authority does not mean you are better than anyone else.

Everyone needs to take time to see the reality of a situation and not fall into making judgements based on half-truths, prejudice or stereotypes.

Everyone is worthy of love.


These non-negotiables were arrived at after working in a number of settings over many years but I would assert that they are absolutely essential in any successful school.

And they are still what I hold true to.

My job is the best job in the world.



Today has been a very strange day. I was lucky enough to go to Glasgow to attend the first training in Scotland for school leaders by Paul Dix from Pivotal Education. Paul was as expected; inspiring informative and very entertaining.

But I will talk about that another time. This post is about communication.

In our school we encourage pupils not to use their mobile phones during the day and where possible not to contact their parents unless absolutely necessary. There have been situations where pupils have sent a text, for example, that has caused concern to a parent and led them to phone in, only to discover that perhaps the wrong end of the stick has been got.

There are many times, however, when mobiles can be very useful, such as when we are on a school trip and the bus is due to arrive back early. A quick call home by pupils when we are half an hour away can avoid them having to stand around in a cold car park for half an hour.
Similarly, if a pupil has forgotten PE kit / inhaler/packed lunch, a quick text home can result in the parent dropping it off at reception with no fuss, instead of the pupil having to take 15 minutes out of class to go to the school office and ask them to make a call home etc, etc.

Most pupils use their phones very responsibly during the school day.

Imagine, then, how I felt when I checked my phone during a brief break this morning to see the following message from my daughter, who is also a pupil at my school:

The school’s on fire!!!!!

A hundred reactions and thoughts went through my head, including:
A massive panic about my children, our children, my colleagues.
“Someone has her phone and it is a joke”.
“I am not there so who has the high-vis jacket and is registering staff?”
“It CAN’T be a drill as prelims are on….”

After some messaging back and forth, I established that it was a real fire but that everyone was safe and soon after that school was being evacuated and pupils sent home.

I sent a message to my colleagues but did not call the school: I knew 100% that they would be fully engaged in managing the critical incident and that the last thing they would need would be me tying up their time or phone lines.

And soon emails, tweets and messages appeared from school to re-assure parents.

And I was re-assured.

Driving home tonight I reflected on how many text messages must get sent nowadays in the moments before real tragedies and how they must render loved-ones completely distraught.

Modern communication is fantastic and yet it can also lead us to over- or mis-communicate at times.

Tonight I will put my phone down and give my two a big hug instead.

I know as teenagers they might resist…. but it will tell them everything they need to know.








Happy, healthy and doing the best they can.

If you have read my previous posts, you will know that I am fairly single-minded about my vision; to help every young person in my care to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can. If I see that children are being deprived of the opportunity to thrive I will fight tooth and nail to put it right.

I want the world to be fair, safe and full of opportunity for every single child and so when things get in the way of that, I get angry and sad.

In school, we do the absolute best we can with the resources we have to support our children.

But we also need to know that they experience a life that is fair, safe and full of opportunity when they are outside of our environment.

We know that this will not be the case if they are out drinking alcohol from a young age.

We know that this will not be the case if they are taking drugs.

We know that this will not be the case if they are engaging in inappropriate sexual activity.

We know that this will not be the case if they do not have clear boundaries.

If we as parents cannot define the safe boundaries for our children then we need to ask for help.

There is no shame in this. We end up in this parenting role with very little preparation and if we are lucky enough to have had good role models in our families, then we probably do a good enough job.

But if we are struggling to get it right, we need to be honest and say so.

As a school leader, I don’t want parents to feel that they need to struggle alone. I need them to be honest and work with me so that we can create the environment both in and out of school that will allow our children to thrive.

It takes a village to raise a child. But we will only raise that child well if the adults in the village are honest, willing to work together and able to ask for help when they need it.










Caring Professionalism. For#cultureofwellbeingDGinset 7.01.18

We work in a caring profession. The dictionary tells us so:
caring profession
plural noun: caring professions
1. a job that involves looking after other people, such as nursing, teaching, or social work.

Yet sometimes it seems as though we have lost sight of the care in our profession.

A hint of why this is might come from the response by Kevin Courtney of the NUT to the reported drop in teacher training numbers this week:

Mr Courtney said: “It’s not the hours but the nature of the work – producing evidence for bureaucrats is taking hours of teachers’ time.
“The workload is not only causing problems with people leaving, but now with people coming into the profession.”

It is hard to be caring when you have to treat tiny children as if they are data producers.
It is hard to be caring when you are working ridiculously long hours to keep up with yet more changes in the exam system.
It is hard to be caring when you are having to cover for absent staff.

But caring is what we are about. I wrote this back in October:

In it, I said:
“What I want, or need, to say now, is that I don’t think most schools work.
I don’t think they can, unless we commit to a fundamental shift in what they are about.
Although they are first and foremost about teaching and facilitating learning, we also have to be honest and admit that they are about caring for and looking after the most precious things in other adults’ lives.”

I am a senior leader. I would like to run a school one day.
I know that there are certain jobs that I will never get because I wear my heart on my sleeve and I put caring first and foremost in what I do.
I know that some people see me as soft / a snowflake / progressive / unrealistic… and sometimes even unprofessional because I refuse to follow directives for the sake of it. Instead, I question decisions on the basis of whether they are in the best interests of the wellbeing of children and staff. I know that having shown myself as vulnerable and having been honest and reflective about wellbeing and mental health makes some wary of me.

But I stand firm in my belief that a commitment to caring is the thing that makes us ultimately professional and the thing that will eventually mean that education can move on and allow children and staff to thrive.
Children need structure, routine and boundaries if they are to develop agency and self-regulation. But show me the evidence that shouting , humiliation or high-stakes testing have a part to play in this.
If you want evidence that a caring approach towards children is far more effective than a punitive, controlling approach then don’t just take it from me, have a look at the following:

From the amazing Beacon House Therapeutic Services and Trauma team (


Read every single other post on this #cultureofwellbeingDGinset platform today.

Read this by the brilliant Mary Meredith (@marymered):

And above all, read Paul Dix’s fantastic book “When the Adults Change, Everything Changes”.

Caring professionalism also takes self-care seriously.

In the medical profession, there is a clearly-stated recognition that doctor wellbeing is essential to patient wellbeing. The Physician’s Charter, latest updated in October 2017 by The World Medical Association, contains the pledge:
“I WILL ATTEND TO my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard.”
(I know about all of this from connecting with the inspiring Michael Farquhar (@DrMikeFarquhar) on Twitter. Mike is a Consultant in Sleep Medicine and writes passionately about the need for sensible working and sleep patterns for doctors. Read more here: )

We lack a similar pledge within our standards for teacher registration in Scotland. The only reference to wellbeing in our Standards appears in 3.2.2 “demonstrate a secure knowledge and understanding of the wellbeing indicators” and this relates to pupil wellbeing.

The education of our children is not something to be taken lightly.
Having teachers who are able to be nurturing, calm, positive, realistically optimistic and caring for children is vital. One of the greatest things we can achieve as adults working with children is to be positive, caring wellbeing role-models.

Do you need some support around your own well-being? Then check out some of the great groups on Twitter such as @HealthyToolkit ( or @teacher5aday.

Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a research scientist who specialises in the impact of attachment and connection, talks about our society undergoing a “revolution in kindness” towards children.

Join that revolution. Dare to care too.






Nothing new.

A revolution.
A revelation.
No resolutions.
I am not a shirker of resolve but sometimes my resolve is too great. So, for 2018, a decision simply to consolidate.
To make more solid that which has been started.

To become more solid.
To keep on…
…working to improve the opportunities whereby all children can learn
…fighting against injustice
….speaking the truth
….hoping for recovery.

Not a better version of my Self but good enough.

Wishing peace and contentment to you and yours.