Relationship matters….relationships matter

This post was first published on Pedagoo.org 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.

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Pastoral Care

Last night I took part in a fantastic pastoral chat session with Jill Berry via UKPastoral Chat.

We were debating various matters pastoral, both in relation to pupils and staff.

I said that I feel that a different model of pastoral support and staff training is needed, if we are to move forward in terms of education and provide genuinely supportive education.

In fact, on reflection, I don’t think that what we need is new, since much of it is going on already, some of it in our own schools and some of it elsewhere.

Many school leaders and politicians would benefit from reading this when considering what we want our interactions with children to be like:
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/17/school-pupil-referral-unit-welcome-bullied-excluded

I also wrote this over a year back and still hold that the 10 questions need to be asked by anyone who chooses (and please remember that it is a choice) to take on the responsibility and privilege of shaping young lives:

10 questions that you need to answer ‘yes’ to if you want to be a teacher/stay in teaching.

1. Do you like children and are you able to love each one as if they were related to you?
2. Do you like hard work?
3. Do you like working in a team of adults?
4. Are you self-aware and self-reflective?
5. Do you understand your own behaviour and its impact on others?
6. Do you genuinely value inclusion and equity?
7. Are you able to see beyond fads and trends and stay committed to your values and evidence based research?
8. Do you understand that the long holidays are not really all holidays? See here for more excellent reflection on this: http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2015/08/02/what-do-teachers-do-for-the-summer/
9. If you have never worked outside of education, are you willing to work hard to research and understand other ways of being?
10. Are you able to say sorry?

And this post that I wrote last week is pertinent to some of the issues raised last night:

https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/what-are-we-about/

I believe above all that a commitment to caring and to allowing the time and space to give pupils individual attention are absolutely crucial, if our schools are to be genuinely nurturing.

Our Scottish Curriculum for excellence recognises the need for personal support:

“Children and young people are entitled to personal support to enable them to
* review their learning and plan for next steps
* gain access to learning activities which will meet their needs
* plan for opportunities for personal achievement
* prepare for changes and choices and be supported through changes and choices
All children and young people should have frequent and regular opportunities to discuss their learning with an adult who knows them well and can act as a mentor, helping them to set appropriate goals for the next stages in learning. This provides opportunities to challenge young people’s choices, which may be based on stereotypes. Young people themselves should be at the centre of this planning, as active participants in their learning and development.”

Yes, we are teachers of subjects and specialisms in secondary education but we are also teachers of children and role models in how to live. We should all be able to provide personal support to children.

As a valued colleague Mandy Davidson noted as part of the debate on Twitter this morning, “My concern of separate path is that others may then see pupils as “not my area, I am subject specialist”.

As teachers, we all have to be prepared to be specialists in educating children and in providing children with the time and space to find solutions to the challenges that they face. We have to give unconditional positive regard to all the children we encounter and want the absolute best for every one.

I disagree that external providers or ‘specialists’ are best equipped to fly in and help children deal with challenges. As adults, we are all specialists in living. We are all specialists in being mentally healthy, where we accept the World Health Organisation Definition of Mental Health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

A minority of children will need specialist support for an acute physical or mental health condition.
The majority need caring, positive adults who are solution-focused, aspirational and aware of how children grow and develop. And who work in partnership with the child’s parent or career to find the right path for him/her.

Some final thoughts:
We all need to be prepared to deliver pastoral care. A system which divides us into pastoral and curricular staff is inefficient.
We can’t be positive role models if we are worn out, demoralised and overworked.
We can’t run schools well if we don’t have enough adults in them to provide time, space and care.
We need a bit of slack in staffing so that if I am teaching French to a class of 27 and 26 of them are coping fine but one needs a bit of time out because his mum is ill/ his cat has died/ he feels angry/ he just needs to be listened to then someone can give him what he needs. This is early intervention.

This is not about class sizes per se but about the ratio of adults to children in an environment where life is happening and where positive relationships have the power to transform lives.

And I will finish with tweets from two very excellent people.

Let’s lead our schools like Chris Dyson:

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And lead our lives like the fantastic Dr Mike Farqhuar:

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What are we about?

I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.
I have a rough sense of what I want to say and I have tried, several times, to start to formulate it but I have failed.

Here, then, some unformulated
Ideas.

Last year I did the Scottish Into Headship course with the view to becoming a school leader. I loved the course and developed a sense of the leader I would like to be. Since doing the course, I have taken on the role of Acting Head of Secondary in the Joint Campus where I was appointed four years ago as Deputy Head of Pupil Support.
Prior to that I had been Head of Support Department and a Head of Languages Faculty in a school in the Outer Hebrides. Prior to that I had been a mum to tinies and prior to that I had taught, in various roles in schools in England.

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.

The care of children.

Childcare. Right up to when those big children are 16 or even 18.

And if our schools put other things at a stake above caring for children, we are getting something wrong.

We can pretend and make excuses that getting pupils to pass exams and achieve all sorts of other things that can be assessed is part of caring for them.
But I don’t really believe that it is.

I am not sure that I have ever really understood this until now.

Until now that I am in a situation where my own two children are in the school where I am a leader. And where I see every one of their peers as another child in need of care. Of love.

I currently have the privilege of working in a 3 to 18 through school.

And much as it is all it can and should be, my virtual tour of this school which is not but could be mine may give you a sense of what I feel to be wrong.

“Ah welcome, welcome to our pre-5 unit, Mrs Leader. Here we will do our best for three year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye. Yes, fifteen other lovelies will share the attention of our two wonderful nursery nurses but she will be fine. No no, they aren’t teachers but they both studied childcare at college.

Yes, she’ll be loved and cared for and we are a hug-friendly provider (see the notice on the door and our attachment-informed policies). Well, yes, only two pairs of arms and two laps to go round but we are training them to be ready for school so we don’t want to encourage them to be clingy. At three, we need to foster independence and a more formal relationship with care-givers.
Sharing attention is an important part of growing up and becoming an independent learner, after all.

And through here is our first year class. Yes! Twenty-five in here, some fours and some fives! We are nearly over-subscribed!
One teacher, one classroom assistant and Betty, who is split between this class and the one next door because each has a pupil with a special educational need. No, no,not a teacher. Not an autism specialist.
Yes, you may recognise Betty from her other part time job in the co-op.

Here we will do our best for five year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.

 

Yes, isn’t the uniform lovely! Confirming to a dress code is an early step towards learning about the world of work.

 

And how time flies and already here they are in the last class of primary, ready to spread their wings and join big school. Well, apart from the ones who aren’t. And then of course there are those who really were ready two years ago. But we have to keep them together on their age groups because…. well, how else would it work?
No, Mrs Smith is a temporary teacher because Mr Brown left to concentrate on his writing. I know, such a shame.
Mrs Smith can only do three days for us so the rest of the time is shared between other staff. It is quite okay though as it will get the children used to having several teachers; they will have up to 18 in secondary!
Here we will do our best for eleven year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.

And now we move round to the secondary department.
Yes, isn’t it busy! Oh yes, the canteen is the hub. Too noisy? No, no. There’s nothing teenagers like more than this type of environment.
Supervision? Well, a couple of teachers do lunch duty and the older pupils look out for the younger ones.

Yes, classrooms do look a lot like they did when we were at school, don’t they? All facing the front! All doing as they are told! You remember being taught by Mrs Reece? No, I bet you never answered her back! It never did you any harm though, did it?

Yes, thirty-three thirteen year olds!! In one room. All those hormones and sensitive, imaginative, rebellious teenage brains! Yes, it takes a lot of skill but our teachers are very experienced and our results are fantastic!

Here we will do our best for fourteen year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.

 

And finally to our most senior class. Oh, no teacher in the room here. We must have needed to put him with a junior class due to staff shortages today.

Luckily they are all excellent at independent study, though. We encourage them to be so from an early age.

Lucy, tell our guest what you are working on there. French? Excellent. And you are going to study it at university? Brilliant.

You think you know this lady from somewhere?
You live in the same house?
Breakfast and dinner and the odd weekend outing?
But she gave you away to the care of someone else when you were three?

I see.
Well, Mrs Leader. The end of our tour for today.

I do hope you will choose us.”

 

Let’s be honest.
What are we doing?
One adult in a room caring for 20, 30, 33 of those most precious things?

This is not just about class size or individual teachers. It is about purpose and values and our fundamental understanding of what education and schools are for.

Caring.

Top of my list of values as a school leader. But maybe not compatible with a system that pretends it is about something else?

 

 

Why we need to teach about Mental Health.

 

On Wednesday evening I delivered a 7 minute talk at the Scottish Learning Festival Teachmeet. This is what I said.

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Today I am going to talk about why I believe we need to teach about mental health in schools. Some people like to argue that mental health education should be the remit of parents or health professionals or trained staff but I would argue differently.

I’m not very good at talking concisely. But I have to do so today. So if you are interested in hearing more of what I have to say, please check out my blog Lenabellina on WordPress.

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This is one reason we need to teach about mental health. I don’t disagree with reports like this when they are evidence-based and if they help raise awareness that we need to talk. But I also think that we need to be clear what we are talking about. Teenagers have always suffered from emotional difficulty; it is part of being an adolescent and it is really important that we acknowledge that and talk about it as teachers and as parents/carers. We also need to ensure that we don’t create a crisis of “mental illness” or teenage depression by somehow turning normal emotions into something pathological. In perhaps the greatest and most popular study of teenagers ever, Shakespeare presents adolescence in all its terrible, emotional beauty; “Romeo and Juliet” deals with the issue of teenage suicide.

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We also need to teach about mental health because of this. Because the world is confusing and hard to understand a lot of the time, not just for children, but for us adults too. And it’s only if we talk about it, that we will be able to manage it.

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So, I have tried to summarise my thoughts (aiming to be concise, remember!) in these four statements about why we need to teach about mental health.
1. Because there is still too much stigma surrounding mental health.
I did a twitter poll for teachers a while back and there clearly is still fear around judgement if you admit to sometime struggling with mental health issues.
2. Because we are role models and turnaround adults who shape lives.
When we choose to take on the responsibility of shaping children’s lives we become role models, like it or not.
3. Because by talking and teaching we can help to challenge the stigma.
4. Because children die when we don’t teach them to be mentally healthy. There is no expressing what you go through, as a teacher, when a young person in your care commits suicide.

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This is the World Health Organisation definition of mental health and I really like this. When we look at this, we have to question why there is stigma around talking about mental health. How is this any different to the broadest aims for education that any of us would aspire to achieve?

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And in fact, in spite of all the recent wranglings about the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence, there is a huge resonance between the WHO definition and these capacities. I would not want to work in an education system that has anything else at its centre.

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But just to return to this slide for a moment, although I love this, I do have a slight issue with one word here and that is the word “normal”.

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When we talk about mental health we need to remember that there is no normal; my mental health is not necessarily yours. What is important is that each one of us understands what we need to do to keep mentally healthy.

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So, where should you start if you are going to teach about mental health? Just do it! ask pupils what they think, look at the World Health Organisation definition as a starter; why wouldn’t we talk about it? Use these fantastic resources which are freely available and if you need more help, consider doing a mental health first aid training course which will give you both confidence and understanding of mental health.

 

Before I finish, I would like to return to the idea of us being role models. It is important that, as role models to young people, we show our own vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. All my pupils know just now that my dad is not well and that I’m struggling…but they will also see me come out the other side of it and manage the emotions around this difficult situation.
They also know that I struggled with anxiety and perfectionism when I was in my early 20s because I have told them; I want them to learn from where I went wrong.
They don’t know the full details but I can tell you that it was a pretty dire time for me and that I fought some really difficult battles to stay mentally healthy. I am 100% certain that if someone at school had talked to me about mental health I wouldn’t have had such a difficult time. When we do talk and learn about it we can feel better and children need to know that.

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#CelebrateTeenSept

Working with teenagers is the most wonderful, inspiring, challenging and life-affirming privilege.
Having done it for over twenty years, I am absolutely delighted that in the last three, I have discovered research and literature that backs up my rather intuitive feeling that we need to look very carefully the way we teach and interact with teenagers.
There are five key messages that inform my practice as a secondary school leader;
1. Teenagers are not just big children or young adults. They are a valid entity in their own right. Adolescence is not something to be survived or tolerated. It is an exciting phase of development where we need to nurture and facilitate.
2. Everyone who works with or parents teenagers needs to look at latest research.
3. Schools need to accept that educating teenagers is not easy within a system where one adult who represents authority has to manage the energies, personalities and potential of approximately 30 adolescents in a confined space for around an hour at a time. But difficult is not impossible. Allowing spaces for creativity and risk-taking with safe boundaries is essential.
4. Becoming more sensitive to what your peers think and less concerned about what adults think is an essential part of attaching to the people with whom you will make your future . To tell a teenager to ignore peer pressure is to underestimate the importance of peer to peer connection.
5. We adults need to remember that when teenagers rebel, it is never personal. You can hate me for now but my continued love for you is what will help you. You can push against my boundaries but I will continue to hold them so that you better understand the world.

My thinking has been influenced primarily by the research undertaken by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and I have blogged about her work here:
https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/sarah-jayne-blakemore-comes-to-edinburgh/

For the last two years, I have taught a module on the teenage brain to fourth year pupils at school.
This year I am also running a workshop for parents and carers.

The work starts with discussion of words and thoughts that spring to mind when pupils hear the word “teenager”.

When I say “discussion”, I handle this very carefully. Asking teenagers to talk about personal issues in front of their peers when sensitivity to peers is so heightened can be unwise and so I seek responses in ways that make it easier to elicit honesty: for example ideas written anonymously on small bits of paper which I read and then destroy.

I ask pupils to suggest teenagers as they are presented in books, films, songs and the news and we reflect on the types or role models that these teenagers are.

I use Kevin from Harry Enfield https://youtu.be/dLuEY6jN6gY

and Lauren from Catherine Tate https://youtu.be/JpgVokQEchA
and begin to suggest that perhaps teenage rebellion against adults is not just about “a phase”.

I then talk to them about Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s ground-breaking work and show this fantastic talk:

The drama “Brainstorm” from Company Three is a fantastic resource and script can be purchased from Nick Hern, along with a guide to making your own Brainstorm:
https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/brainstorm

I also use Nicola Morgan’s excellent video:

If anyone wants a PowerPoint with links to all these resources, I can email one.

 

There is so much out there and so much to be excited about.

We must #CelebrateTeenSept and I will finish with Yaamin’s words from “Brainstorm”:

You say to me
Your brain is broken.
It’s like an adult’s brain but it doesn’t work properly.
It’s like you’re in a city you’ve never been to and you don’t have a map and you don’t know what you’re doing.
And you keep taking the wrong turns.
You say
Listen to me.
Don’t worry
One day you’ll be okay.
Probably.
Your brain will start working properly.
One day your brain will be just like mine and then you’ll be okay.
But until then:
You’ve got to try and be more…like me.
I say to you
My brain isn’t broken.
It’s beautiful.
I’m in a city I’ve never been to and I see bright lights and new ideas and fear and opportunity and a thousand million roads all lit up and flashing.
I say

There are so many places to explore but you’ve forgotten that they exist because every day you walk the same way with your hands in your pockets and your eyes on the floor.
I say
When I’m wild and out of control it’s because I’m finding out who I am.
And if I was a real wild animal
Then I’d have left by now.

I say
My brain isn’t broken
It’s like this for a reason
I’m like this for a reason
I’m becoming who I am.

And I’m scared
And you’re scared
Because who I am might not be who you want me to be.
Or who you are.
And I don’t know why but I don’t say
It’s all going to be okay.

There are so many things I stopped saying to you.
I want to say them.
But I can’t.

Brainstorm Copyright @2016 Ned Glasier, Emily Lim and Company Three. Shared with the kind permission of Ned Glasier, who I had the great privilege to know when he was a teenager.

Message for Monday.

This is the message that my pupils are getting in the bulletin on Monday.
A message from Mrs Carter
Lunchtime behaviour.
At lunchtimes, we want to give you freedom to be with your friends, have some  less structured time and get a break from strict supervision.
We trust you to behave in a way towards each other that ensures that everyone feels happy and relaxed.

If you cannot do this, there will be very serious consequences, so before you speak to anyone at lunchtime, stop and consider the following:

Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
THINK.

If you cannot be kind to others in this school community, I will need to supervise you until you learn to be so.

Real results.

30 years ago today I turned 18. I cried for most of the morning. 30 years ago to the day, I also received my A Level results and “only” got 2 As and a B so was not going to be accepted into my chosen university.
The tears were related to the results and not the birthday, which should have been a day of celebration and joy.

Of course, I had done incredibly well. But I felt a failure. The system of exams and university entrance, so divisive and narrow in its definition of “success” and “intelligence”, had led me to equate value with being able to do well in exams.
No matter that I was a good, kind person, a creative and talented singer and actor and a deep but slightly chaotic thinker.
In the end, I got a place by re-applying the following year. But the experience having “failed” on the basis of a few hours sitting in a stuffy hall and spewing out all I could remember about French, German and Politics hit me hard.

So reading this fabulous piece this week makes me wonder what on earth we are thinking and doing, thirty years on from my results day:
https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/after-sitting-28-gcse-papers-four-weeks-i-was-left-thinking-what-was

Having worked in education for over twenty-five years, I have seen attempts to challenge the system come and go:
Vocational GCSEs;
The revival of Drama and other creative subjects in the noughties;
The accreditation of work experience;
The inclusion of Key Skills in A and AS levels;
The attempt by organisations like the RSA to promote the value skills-based qualifications.

And in Scotland, where I now work, the creation of a new Curriculum For Excellence qualifications system that allows pupils to be assessed without an exam.

But what are we doing in Scotland? We are talking about re-introducing the exam into our National 4 (lower tier GCSE equivalent) as seemingly people don’t value it without one.

In fact, all that needs to happen is that we need to do the PR better. Pupils, parents and the universities need to be persuaded that exams are only one way of assessing pupils, alongside many other equally valid methods.

Exams are indeed often a memory test. And they are easy to administer and mark.
But let’s not pretend that easy is best for our children or for the future of our country.

When I go in tomorrow for our first day of term and ask my colleagues to analyse our exam results, I will be just as interested in the non-exam results; in the non-examined National 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s.
But I will also be keen to hear the narrative around each child and to reflect on how well we have supported them in their journey to become educated and achieving in the broadest sense; to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can.

 

The longer-term view.

Last weekend I went back for a music festival to the island where we had spent six and a half years. We left nearly four years ago when I sought promotion to a senior leadership post.

When we lived in Uist, I was variously a supply teacher, PT (Head of Department) of Support for Learning, PT Languages and Youth Theatre leader.

I consequently got to know lots of pupils over the years.

I knew at the time that I was blessed to work with them. They were generally co-operative, creative and resilient.
The classes were small and although we were on a remote rock in the middle of the Atlantic, we were generally well-resourced.

Of course we had some issues. There was a significant degree of rural deprivation. Some pupils found island life suffocating and frustrating. We had our fair share of family break-ups, health and mental health difficulties and bereavements. Alcohol misuse was a concern amongst young and old.
And we had the terrible trauma of a care-leaver who was murdered soon after leaving school in S4.

But we also had an amazing sense of community that was based around music, drama, ceilidhs, Gaelic and tradition.

The community was somewhat wary of outsiders at times but on the whole we fitted in.

Within minutes of arriving at the festival, I was confronted by three lovely young women. “Lena! Do you remember us?” At first, a moment of bluster, having been taken unawares and unable to place these beautiful faces… and then “Of course!! Caitlin, Sarah and ….. Jessie!” Two former Germanists and youth theatre die-hards and one of my first S4 French class and a Gaelic star.
Now, as if possible, an art undergraduate, a medic and a British Museum trainee…..All confident, poised and so very interesting.

I felt a burst of pride and a genuine sense of contentment.

And so the weekend continued. Re-union after union, tale after tale of children grown into young adults; lots having been inspired to continue with German, many carrying the baton of drama into their adult lives.

Several had not found school easy but are now achieving and thriving as grown-ups.

The highlight, perhaps, was dancing along to the Beinn Lee Ceilidh Band which rivals any of the modern-traditional fusion bands that you will hear today and was formed completely of former pupils.

I know that I didn’t get the full story or complete picture in every case. I know that not every past pupil will be in a good place.

But last weekend gave me a huge sense of affirmation that our job as a teacher is a privilege and potentially life-changing.

We can’t measure our success in a matter of months or a few short years. We need to take a longer- term view to really see the seeds we have sown grow, flourish and bloom.