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.

Inclusive CPD?

On Monday I delivered CPD on making our classrooms more inclusive.

I shared quotes from the technical guidance on 2010 equalities act that says when it is not ok to exclude and why we need to make reasonable adaptations to our systems.

I shared extracts from the Scottish Standards for teacher registration that use the words ‘care for’ and ‘wellbeing’ and reference responsibilities of all.

I suggested 8 myths that we need to debunk:
* Things have never been this bad.
* This is not the right school for him.
* We can’t do anything until she gets a mental health diagnosis.
* If X gets away with this, the other pupils will think they can too.
* I am not a social worker and this is not my job.
* There is no hope for that child.
* There is a quick fix.
* (Mrs Carter is a soft touch)

I quoted from Jarlath O’ Brien’s book.

I gave examples of alternative differentiation, beyond giving pupils a laptop or printing handouts:
* Ignoring fidgeting
* When a pupil is late to class, dealing with it in a very low key way
* Having spare pencils ready for the pupil who always forgets
* Tactically ignoring non uniform
* Allowing the whole class to listen to music on headphones while working
I asked “why wouldn’t you? Are you afraid of looking soft or giving in?”

And I gave a task in groups of 3: think about the pupil who is causing you greatest challenge.
I asked them to consider:

Who? What? When?
Things tried so far?
What can I do now to help this child or young person?
What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?
What do others suggest?

I then asked colleagues to pick one of the suggestions and try it over the next two weeks. Then to email the others with an update in 2 weeks.

And at the start, I asked a colleague to deliberately arrive late. When he did, I snapped at him to wait outside.
I then told the audience to wait then went outside and yelled at him in their hearing.

We came back in and deconstructed what had occurred and whether such adult behaviour would ever be acceptable in other workplaces.
We asked:
• Why did I (teacher) respond like I did (initial and corridor response)
• Was the response ok?
• What could I have done differently?
• Why might the pupil be late?
• How did it make the pupil feel?

I also talked about the fact that in times of austerity, we need to work together to ensure that the needs of all pupils are met in the most effective and efficient way.
I played 3 songs:
We’re all in this together
When the going gets tough
All you need is love.

In their evaluations, some staff were very positive and said that the session had been very informative. Others were less positive and seemed to have felt patronised. Some felt (rightly) that there was too much of me talking and not enough time for them to talk and share.

My conclusion was that, as with pupils, one size does not fit all and that I perhaps need to look more carefully at tailoring what are scarce CPD opportunities to suit individual CPD needs.

As follow up, I am sharing these links with staff tomorrow as my Friday Thoughts:

I felt a bit like a lone lunatic, but I hope I might have made a difference to some.

Friday thoughts: CPD on a budget?

Friday thoughts.

This year at school I have started to circulate a weekly email to staff entitled ‘Friday thoughts.’ It has generally been received with a positive response and below is the email I sent yesterday. Perhaps you might like to do something similar in your school?

Happy Friday!

I don’t know about you but this week has felt like a long one to me.

I have been very touched by the lovely response that I have had to the Friday emails. I also thought it may be useful to share my thinking behind them.

In times of reduced budgets we need to find different opportunities to connect, learn, share ideas and engage in professional reflection. In these emails I try to provide stimulus for reflection around issues relating to inclusion, wellbeing and pupil support. Some ideas are mine but some are from people much wiser and more experienced than I am.

I would love for you to get in touch if you have an idea or piece that you would like included: I will simply act as curator and share.

This week, three things that I shared in my S4 assembly yesterday.

Inspiration from the Paralympics.

You may have seen this advert on the t.v. but it inspires me every time:

This one appeals to me as a dramatist and reminds us that the best of times can follow the worst of times:

And this, from the 2012 Paralympics. As I said to the pupils, everyone’s ‘proud’ will come from something thing different: for one it may be getting up in the morning and making it in to school/work when times are tough, for another achieving a gold medal, for another helping out a friend:

What have you done today?

Kindest regards

Do as I say and look after your voice.

This is a repost of a blog I wrote six months ago on @staffrm.

I thought that the advice may be useful for those starting back with classes after a long break. Or for those new to teaching this term.

But, in addition, I have lost my voice! It started with a sore throat on Thursday and I became hoarse. However, instead of staying off yesterday, I considered myself ‘indispensable’, went in and croaked through 2 lessons and three meetings and am suffering all the more today.
It will have been a false economy if I can’t speak next week and have to be off.
So, an additional piece of advice that I would add: DON’T ignore a sore throat or throat infection. When it strikes, rest and avoid talking.

I have worked previously with staff and students to help them look after their voices; as teachers our voice is a crucial tool yet one that is easy to abuse.
My sessions in the past have been practical so I will endeavour to make my ideas work on paper.
What I will write is preventative; if you have ongoing voice problems or a persistent sore or hoarse voice, please consult a doctor as you may need treatment.
My husband is a biologist and may be horrified by the non-scientific way that I describe things below but the images work for me.
Imagine a catherdral. In the cathedral hangs a wind chime. When a breeze enters the cathedral 2 parts of the chime brush together and a sound is made. The sound then echoes and resonates in the chambers and spaces of the cathedral.
The breeze or energy needed to make the chimes sound is your breath. The chimes are your vocal chords. The spaces where the sound echoes are the cavities inside your head where your voice gains resonance and volume.
It is crucial that you support your voice with breath. To breathe deeply, place both feet flat on the floor and centre your weight. Imagine that your chest and rib cage is a glass bell jar with a rubber diaphragm at the bottom (- ooh, bit of real science!). As you breathe in, keep your shoulders down and attempt to push the muscles in your stomach and round your back out. Breathe right down into your back and bottom. When you first do this, your head may feel light so take it easy! As you breathe out, pull your stomach and bottom muscles back in.
This may feel counter-intuitive but keep at it!

Before you speak, remember to breathe.
Relax the muscles in your face, mouth and neck. Blow raspberries. Chew as if you are chewing a huge toffee. Yawn. Get a neck massage.
Play with your voice and try to find a way of speaking that allows you to project and find resonance without straining or shouting. This may result in you changing the way you speak (eg raising or lowering the pitch) but it may be needed if you are to keep it healthy!
The cavities in your nose and the front of your skull are crucial resonators. Find them by humming. Push the hum into your nose and feel it buzz in your nose and lips. When you speak with resonance, the sound needs to come from that area so try speaking and focusing the sound there.
Sounds like hard vowels can hurt your voice if you force them; play with the word ‘apple’ and try and attack it more gently.

Don’t smoke. Ever.

Drink lots of water.

Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.

Try to take time off talking for a short time each day, longer on weekends.

Be very aware of when you are tired and take extra care with your voice.

Don’t shout above classroom noise.

If you need attention in a busy class, use a slow, calm and well-projected countdown from 5 to 1 where 1 is silent and still. Teach and practise it from day one.

Welcome back

This week I did a welcome back assembly for my S4 year group. I had a lot to say. I decided against doing the usual ‘this year is massively important/pile on the pressure’ approach and instead to give a message about individuality. I asked them for feedback. It ranged from ‘hot’ (temperature in library) and ‘boring’ to ‘inspirational’, ‘helpful’ and ‘moving’.

So I think I made a difference to at least some. Here’s what I said:1

I hope you had a lovely summer. Some of you may have not and that is difficult; we all expect holidays to be a time to relax, have fun.


The other day, I was asked this question – are you going to do one of those…., Mrs C??

And I thought about it. And I decided that maybe not. Because as I thought about it, I realised that maybe not all of you need to hear that message just now.


Some of you may well need the first approach just now. You may well need to be told that ‘this is an important year’…and get the proverbial kick up the backside

But others may KNOW THAT IT IS IMPORTANT AND HAVE KNOWN IT SINCE S1. Me telling you is unlikely to help and may indeed make things worse.

Each one of you in S4 is an individual and each one will have a slightly different aim this year:


Some of you, as you know from the PSE work we did on teenage brain, may be finding it hard to have any sort of plan and may struggle to think beyond tomorrow!!




It is the job of the adults in this school to help you keep going in the right direction.


Prelims are the ‘practice’ exams you do if you are doing National 5’s. They may also help you and your teachers decide whether you should do N4 or N5. And they can be useful if you get struck down with an illness during the actual N5 exams – for example if you get glandular fever, which can affect people of your age and may or may not be caused by snogging……..


Here is another example of how one bit of advice does not work for all people. This looks quite sensible. This is the poster of the week for S2 this week.


For some of you, who lack motivation and can ALWAYS find an excuse for not doing things (“I’m too tired!!”), this might be great!


If Mo Farah had given up when he was tired after 4 laps, he would not have gone on to win an Olympic gold. Equally, if he had given up when he fell over, he’d never have got the gold…….

BUT I was terrible at your age and at university for pushing myself TOO hard – always working until I was ‘finished’ and not listening to when I was tired. I was always worried that I wasn’t doing enough, that there were always more books to read and I nearly made myself ill. Some of you may be like me. In some (most) jobs, there is always more work you COULD do.

But fact we all know, if we go back to Mo Farah, that for athletes, training is all about pace. Not doing too much or too little, listening to your body and stopping when you are injured or tired. It is the MOST competitive thing but it is also a field where it is MOST important to know what YOU can do.


Tom Daly gave a good example in the Olympics of how things don’t always go to plan, even when we work our hardest. He got a bronze medal in the Olympics which is beyond what most of us in the room could even dream of! But he felt he had failed.


He gives an important message about how we can fall and get up again (like Mo), learn and try again.

In fact Tom Daly is a very interesting example of how hard it can sometimes be to keep going to achieve what we want:

He competed in the Bejing Olympics aged 14.

His father, Robert, died from a brain tumour on 27 May 2011, aged 40 when Tom was 17.

He was also bullied at school and actually moved school after the 2012 Olympics when people called him ‘Speedo boy.’

He took his GCSEs in small batches to fit around his diving commitments. He persuaded supermodel Kate Moss to pose for a recreation of an original portrait by David Hockney, as part of a GCSE photography project recreating great works of art, after meeting her on a photo shoot for the Italian version of Vogue.

He obtained one A and eight A* grades in his GCSEs

In 2012, he did A-level studies in mathematics, Spanish and photography.  He received an A* in his photography A-level, and an A in his Spanish and maths A-levels.

In 2013 he came out and once again was the victim of horrific online homophobic bullying.

He is 22 and worth 4 million pounds.

Where are the people who were abusive now?

Another person recently who has spoken out about bullying is Nadiya Hussain. Last year’s Bake-off winner. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, she said she has experienced racist abuse throughout her life, had things thrown at her and been pushed and shoved.

She said: “I expect to be shoved or pushed or verbally abused because that happens. It’s been happening for years.”

Asked by host Kirsty Young how she reacted, she said she did not retaliate.

‘Be the better person’.

“I feel like there’s a dignity in silence, and I think if I retaliate to negativity with negativity, then we’ve evened out,” she said.

“And I don’t need to even that out because if somebody’s being negative, I need to be the better person.

This leads me to a message I want you all to hear in S4:


And if you are experiencing abuse or hurt from others, whilst I encourage you not to retaliate and to have dignity in silence, please DON’T suffer in silence. We will be doing more on this in S4 PSE this term as we look at hate crime.



Being well.

The end.

And a beginning.

The last Saturday of the holidays.

And back to it on Monday.

I have had a great holiday. I have caught up with lots of good friends and connected with my family, closest and wider. I have been to Harry Potter Studios, Cambridge, Dorset, The Larmer Tree Festival, Ben Nevis and the Edinburgh Fringe.

I have some new body art.

I have had reunions with friends not seen since 1989, 1992 and 2007 and it has been wonderful. So much has happened and changed in the meantime yet connection, friendship, love and understanding have remained.

I managed to complete a draft of my final ‘Into Headship’ assessment. It is far from finished and far from perfect but it will do for now.

Working for that has re-invigorated my desire to be a head teacher, to run a school. I have a new source of inspiration, having read “Leading the Strategically Focused School: Success and Sustainability” by Brent Davies.

How can you not admire someone who writes as follows?

“Education is a wonderful challenge. The challenge is to give every child the opportunity to learn and develop. We might consider that children are the messages we send intothe future. Clearly, we need to send good messages.”


“In setting the direction of the school, the way that leaders interpret externally-imposed requirements is a moral and curricular issue about the purpose of education. Obeying orders ‘from on high’ to the detriment of children’s education is a moral choice. In discussions, leaders often use the leadership mantra approach and ask, ‘What is in the best interests of the children?’ to determine what moral stance to take. Establishing a value system and set of beliefs for the school provides the moral template on which to judge current and future decisions and the direction of the school.”

I have cleaned the house.

I have done bits of preparation for the new term and blitzed my office.

Yesterday, I went to Alloa and did a piece of video work for an online resource for Scottish Autism.

I have walked or cycled every day except two.

I have blogged and kept an eye on Twitter but gone for the #teacher5aday and #summerofmildrebellion threads rather than anything too serious.

(Thanks so much to @MissVicki_V, @rondelle10_b and @Dorastar1)

I have particularly loved reading blog posts from @jw_teach @JarlathOBrien, @nancygedge and @JulesDaulby.

On the whole my work-life balance has been healthy and ‘life’ has come out on top.

I have switched off and pieced myself back together after running myself into the ground last year – as all teachers do. But I did find it harder to switch off this year. I found it hard to stop and when I did, I found myself in some pretty difficult places.

I realised that I needed to take a bit of a harder look. To do some ‘work’ of a different kind.

So, inspired by both Rob Macmillan’s amazing blog , Dr Tim O’ Brien’s book ‘Inner Story’ and Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, I have written my story this summer. It is long. It is indulgent. But more than anything else, it is honest.

I am not sure that I will ever be able to make it public in the way that Rob has. I would like to, as I believe that it may help others who struggle with things going on in their head. But I am not sure that I am brave enough. A comment from someone a few months back suggesting that maybe my blog is ‘too’ honest has made me cautious.

Having written my story is a big step for me, though. A step towards greater honesty about who I am and why I behave and feel the way I do. A step towards acknowledging my vulnerability and my strength.

It is important to be honest with others but out first commitment must be to achieve honesty with ourself. Our self.

In writing, I have spotted some patterns, noticed some common themes and realised that I need to make some changes.

I know, I know.

I have said it before, made the resolutions, made the 5 a day pledges, been a wellbeing guru.

And at the time, I meant every word I said.

But as I sit here, on my 47th birthday, I mean it again.

Here’s a toast to wellbeing. To being well. To staying well.

In it for the long term…..


This week I have been into school and tidied my office. (Trigger counteraction for those in England; we are back on the 15th August and have been off for nearly 5 weeks. Don’t feel guilty!)

It was quite a monumental task as the 4 very large wall shelves behind my desk contained the legacy of my predecessor, who left 3 years ago, and that of the post-holder previous to him, the head teacher of the special school which was amalgamated into our campus 10 years ago.

I should have tackled it all when I first arrived 3 years ago but I had a sense of guilt about getting rid of things that I had not created.

Plus, as a hoarder, I was convinced that it might all prove useful ‘someday’.

Then I went out on secondment after just a year in post at school so left the office again for 16 months.

But now that I am back, I decided to bite the bullet.

I have thrown out masses. Lots of it simply outdated; circulars, briefings, initiatives. Copies of things that can be found online in an updated version. Things that are no longer legislatively compliant.

In looking through it all, though, I was struck by a few things.

We move on so quickly in education. Initiatives come and go in a matter of a few years and the long term view is too often lost in the face of the ‘quick fix’.

Example: “Let’s do inclusion and close special schools!”

But then, just a few years later:

“Let’s re-open special schools!”

Of course we need to reflect and let go of outmoded practices if they prove not to work. For an excellent piece on this, look no further than this:

But we also need to remember the long term view and avoid the knee-jerk.

I hope that we in Scotland will do this in the light of the recent ruling in the Supreme Court that very specific aspects of Getting It Right For Every Child needing looking at again. The knee-jerkers are saying that it is the end of GIRFEC and the Named Person. But it must not be. The best argument I have seen as to why not is here:

My questions to anyone who suggests otherwise are:

“Why would we not want someone in school (and in secondary in particular, where a child may have 15 plus teachers) to know a child well and look out for him/her?”


“So, if we are no longer going to commit to Getting It Right For Every Child, are we tacitly implying that we can Get It Wrong For Every Child?”

This week I also completed the first draft of my ‘Into Headship’ final assignment and reflected on the reading I have done as part of that. Certainly the key message from the guys who know is that we have to have a long term view.

These quotes from the work of Dimmock and Walker and Davies are particularly pertinent:

“Consequently, the leadership and management of school improvement needs to be holistic, but it must also be consistent and intentional”. (Dimmock and Walker 2004 p 43)

“…major change in schools often takes five to ten years to embed.” (Dimmock and Walker 2004, p 41)

“It is important that any strategic or operational decisions are set in a futures context. The school needs to scan its long-term environment to identify the developing ideas and trends that will form the strategic agenda in the future. Schools need to understand the world in which their pupils will seek employment and live and begin to formulate approaches that will enable them to succeed in the world in 15-20 years’ time. Fifteen years is only the length of one child’s educational journey.” (Davies 1998, p 467)

Finally, Priestley and Miller (2012) made me reflect on the need to consider the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ of policy implementation and to “acknowledge the importance of attending to the transactions between different actors, and between actors and their contexts” (p 100). I was interested to read their account of the Highland model of improvement that looked beyond the mere introduction of pedagogic techniques and sought instead to examine the “broader purposes of education”.

Let’s not knee jerk and be too short term. Of course the everyday crises matter, but as leaders, we need to have our eye on the bigger picture.



Davies, B. (1998) Strategic planning in schools: an oxymoron? School Leadership & Management 18.4 (1998): 461-473.

Dimmock, C. and Walker, A.(2004) A new approach to strategic leadership: learning‐centredness, connectivity and cultural context in school design, School Leadership & Management, 24:1, 39-56, DOI: 10.1080/1363243042000172813

Priestley, M and Miller, K. (2012) Educational change in Scotland: policy, context and biography, The Curriculum Journal, 23:1, 99-116, DOI: 10.1080/09585176.2012.650490