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.

Idealistic inclusion?

A few things have got me thinking this week. It has been a slow think as I am on half term and did not really plan to blog…..but the thoughts have been chattering away.

Last week in school a colleague was upset that a pupil had not been excluded after a meltdown and outburst in a mainstream class. She quoted the idea that in the post office there is a sign saying ‘we do not tolerate physical or verbal abuse’ and said that we should adopt the same zero tolerance approach to protect our staff and pupils.

I heard myself saying out loud the type of thing that I have only previously written in my blog posts (example here:; that much as the post office may like to create an illusion that people will never suffer meltdowns, get upset or shout on their premises, they are actually only helping to create a world that demonises those who struggle with self control or have a different or perhaps autistic operating system. It did not go down too well.

Of course as a school leader I want school to be a place where staff and pupils feel safe, happy and where learning can take place I disturbed.
But I also want to lead a school where we all understand and accommodate the needs of others.
Where, when a meltdown has happened, we ensure that everyone gets a chance to debrief and learn; the staff and pupils who were present and the pupil who lost control. And I want staff to buy into that vision and approach and not see certain pupils as the responsibility of ‘the special needs’ department. I believe that for inclusion  to be meaningful we need to provide specialist input as appropriate and ensure that each child has a curriculum and experience that is right for him/her. Sometimes the mainstream setting  is just too much for pupils with certain  needs. But often it is not: it is the place where we can all learn together with one another, about one another and about life in all its complexity and diversity.
Is that asking too much? Am I too much idealist and too little realist? I have worried of late that I might be.

Recently we have been using a resource in school called “I Am Me” it looks to raise awareness of disability hate crime but also to explore general issues around inclusion and how we need to work together to allow all members of our communities to thrive. The resource consists of a brilliant film (originally a live play that toured schools) and associated workshop materials:

We have also looked at the teenage brain and ideas about peer pressure, the bystander effect and moral dilemmas.
But in spite of all the theorising and empathic discussion around the situation and character of Charlie, the autistic protagonist of I Am Me, we found out last week that a member of our community who has a learning disability and travels on the service bus that also serves as a school bus feels intimidated and harassed.
And so I talked to those pupils who take the bus. About Charlie and his community and then about this lady and us. I talked about the absolute need for us to see this as our challenge. And I think that the pupils took it on board.
Maybe just my idealism again…. But I do hope that things will change.
Paying lip service to inclusion is not enough. We need to help children to learn what inclusion really is by creating caring, comprehensive school communities where they can learn about each other’s strengths and needs. Where we don’t segregate pupils with additional needs and see them as someone else’s responsibility. Where we discuss challenges openly and honestly with all in the community and find solutions together.

In the eighties, Care in The Community became synonymous with austerity measures that were detrimental to the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our society.
I am absolutely committed to the idea, however, that schools can be at the heart of caring communities which are inclusive, compassionate and understanding.

If I am over-idealistic then I need to find another job. But I hope I’m not.

Wellbeing update October 2016


It’s been a while since my last wellbeing update; the last one was in July and can be found here.

Back at the end of last year I came across the #teacher5aday wellbeing movement.

Reading what had been happening over the previous 12 months amongst teachers with a commitment to wellbeing inspired me and I wrote a blog. The whole piece can be found here
At the end of it I made three vows….and once again it is time to reflect.

Vow 1. To myself. It is time I sorted this out once and for all. I love the Facebook ‘memories’ function where you can see where you were and what you were doing on this day in previous years. But I am concerned that I have been saying the same things about needing to slow down and look after better myself for 10 years. Now is the time. My family needs more of me and I need to accept that excuses won’t do any more. Only I can do this but but I am hoping for a bit of help from @Doctob’s book ‘Inner Story’ which fortuitously came into my possession recently.

Update: I think that, if I am honest, I have had mixed success here. I am still very busy but I have on the whole managed the busyness better. If I may quote the words of Oliver and Young’s song (my favourite version being by Bananarama and Funboy Three), “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It”.

Over the summer I took time to read back through my writing and I also did some additional writing which helped me to get to the heart of some of my behaviours and thinking.

I do work very hard. And I do play very hard. But I am also calmer, more focused and less stressed so that when I am with my family members and friends, I think I am more present, more relaxed, less distracted. 

It does not always work; the nature of my job makes it hard sometimes because the issues involved (particularly relating to Child Protection) are very serious and literally the stuff of nightmares. But I was reminded just yesterday that I do not need to bear these things  alone and that talking to others within a supervisory capacity is key.

It is a week until the start of our October holiday and as ever at the end of term, I am beyond tired. I also have a few niggling physical health issues which are warning signs that I need to take care.

So I have decided that, with a week to go, I am going to make an extra effort to rest, breathe, relax, notice, have fun and cut corners. This week will not be about driving myself into the ground and committing my last few drops of energy to work before collapsing in a heap next Friday.

This week is about building up some reserves again so that I feel ok when the holidays begin.

And this time I will start with the multi-coloured holiday plan on Thursday to get ahead of the chimps who usually start with their torment on day one of the break!! 

Vow 2: To education. I am doing the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course this year and intend to learn all I can about how to be a Wellbeing-motivated educational leader.

Update: I have completed all aspects of the course except for a professional verification visit in which I will be judged against the standards for headship. In the end the project I worked on did not finish as planned but I have reflected on that and learnt from the issues that arose. Doing Into Headship has changed me as a leader beyond belief and I am hugely grateful for that.

I have sown small seeds in my own school this term in relation to promoting wellbeing. I have revamped my office to make it a wellbeing hub, I have started to challenge perceptions about how we support our most vulnerable pupils although I have also recognised that changing perceptions takes time. I have tried my hardest to support staff at a time of intense pressure resulting from austerity measures. 

I have written a ‘Friday Thoughts’ email to all staff each week to support the move towards greater wellbeing for all.

Do I want to be a head teacher still?  Yes. Will circumstances allow for that any time soon? Probably not. So for now, it is about using all the learning to be the best and most reflective leader I can be here and now.


Vow 3: To Twitter. I will use this forum to engage in the debate about wellbeing and teacher ‘agency’ and to support and nurture like-minded souls. I will not beat myself up if I don’t manage to tweet or blog as often as other brilliant twitterati friends…..(as I have in the past) but I will use Twitter for all its potential….

Update: I have continued to write on a weekly basis, both on staffrm where I am still doing the #44week challenge and here on my blog. As I have said above, blogging and sharing with likeminded people via Twitter and other platforms has been invaluable. I have become part of #digimeet and #HealthyTeacherToolbox and found real inspiration and support.

Last week I attended the amazing #PedagooMuckle in Glasgow and had the chance to connect for real with many likeminds. It was uplifting and nurturing and although, on the day before, I thought I’d have to drop out due to exhaustion, I am so glad I did not. I wrote a piece for it here:

I worry that maybe I spend too much time connecting online and not enough time connecting in ‘real’ life. But living in rural Scotland means that connecting face to face is not always easy and for me, the connection support provided virtual reality has been invaluable. 

Although, for example, I cannot be at the #womenEd Unconference today, I can connect in spirit. 


Angry young men

This week I have been dealing with quite a few angry young men. I put out an appeal on twitter to see what resources people might suggest using but in the end I created the following as a tool for encouraging reflection and solution focus.

Please feel free to feed back / adapt / use.



Reflecting on my anger

Think about what happened yesterday:

When, where, who else was there?(eg in history class, when the register was being done) What did I do? (eg shout, swear, lash out, punch, kick, walk out, take deep breaths and stay calm) What SPECIFICALLY triggered the way I acted? (eg something someone said, a look someone gave, something that had happened earlier but was still in my head) What happened next? (eg referral, detention, exclusion) How had I been feeling earlier in the day? (eg when I woke up, came into school, at break, at lunch)

Think back over the last few weeks and note down the times when you have felt or shown extreme anger.

Then, for each one, fill in the columns to the left.

When, where, who else was there?(eg in history class, when the register was being done) What did I do? (eg shout, swear, lash out, punch, kick, walk out, take deep breaths and stay calm) What SPECIFICALLY triggered the way I acted? (eg something someone said, a look someone gave, something that had happened earlier but was still in my head) What happened next? (eg referral, detention, exclusion)

Now look at the examples above and write the numbers of the ones where you controlled your anger successfully:

Now, thinking again about the situations where you have controlled your anger, write down the things that helped (eg breathing deeply, counting to ten, walking out for a break, having a friend or someone else talk to you and help you notice what was happening):

Now write down the things that you can do to help yourself from having another extreme anger outburst:

Now write down the support you need from others to help yourself from having another extreme anger outburst:

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.