Thank you for the inspiration

As part of the new Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course, I have done a lot of reading of academic journals, articles and research into leadership. I have found a lot of resonance within the articles that I have read; both between the ideas of the various writers and with my own ideas on leadership and the vision of the leader I aspire to be.

I have decided that, in this post, I am going to collect together my favourite quotes from the reading I have done. The purpose of this is two-fold. Firstly I will have a repository of inspiration to refer to when I have doubts about what I am doing in future. Secondly, readers may be inspired to look further into the writing from which the quotes have been taken and learn more about leadership.


‘Successful change involves learning during implementation. One of the most powerful drivers of change involves learning from peers, especially those who are further along in implementing new ideas.’ (Fullan, 2009, p3).

Fullan, M., 2009. The challenge of change: Start school improvement now! Corwin Press. Chapter 2 – 8 Forces for Leaders of Change.

‘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)

Clive Dimmock & Allan Walker (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

‘The danger here is that we end up valuing what is measured, rather than that we engage in measurement of what we value’. (Biesta 2008, p43).

Biesta, G. (2008) Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Published online: 2 December 2008 © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008.

‘….we acknowledge the importance of attending to the transactions between different actors, and between actors and their contexts.’ (Priestley & Miller 2012, p 100)

‘Cultural and structural systems pre-exist human activity. As well as providing the context for human activity, they are modified by the intended and unintended consequences of such activity (Archer 1995). Seen in this way, human agency is in part an effect of the interplay of the cultural and structural systems – something to be achieved, the extent of which will vary for individual actors from one social setting to the next.’ (Priestley & Miller 2012, p 105)

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

 ‘Now, helpfulness sounds really anaemic, but it’s absolutely core to successful teams, and it routinely outperforms individual intelligence. Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help. (Heffernan, 2015, 06:14)

Heffernan, M (2015) TED talk – Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work.

‘Recognising the importance of influence as a form of power allows for a more complete picture of policy making at several levels – one in which decisions are seen as the outcome of continuous interaction between individuals and collectives.’ (Bell and Stevenson, 2006)

Bell, Leslie and Stevenson, Howard (2006). Education policy: process, themes and impact. Leadership for learning. Routledge, London. ISBN 0415377722, 9780415377720.

‘Moral and authentic leadership’ is ‘underpinned strongly by leaders’ values’ (Bush and Glover 2014, p 559).

‘We can all think of charismatic or transformational leaders whose purposes were inappropriate or immoral (e.g. Hitler)’ (Bush and Glover 2014, p 559).

Bush, Tony, and Derek Glover. “School leadership models: what do we know?.” School Leadership & Management 34.5 (2014): 553-571.

 ‘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)

‘We believe that strategic intent can be utilised as a means of increasing organisational capability to cope successfully with managing in times of great turbulence’. (Davies 1998, p 472).

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

 ‘..collaborative leadership, as opposed to leadership from the principal alone, may offer a path towards more sustainable school improvement.’ (Heck and Hallinger, p 107)

Philip Hallinger & Ronald H. Heck (2010) Collaborative leadership and school improvement: understanding the impact on school capacity and student learning, School Leadership & Management, 30:2, 95-110, DOI: 10.1080/13632431003663214

‘..making meaning, as a process of argumentation for and justification of action, is about relationships and interactions.’ (Reeves and Boreham 2006, p 471)

‘It was, however, a natural implication of the idea of organisational learning that the people on the ground should take responsibility for improvement, and that it was therefore up to them to identify what needed doing (rather than for the authority to prescribe priorities for them).’ (Reeves and Boreham, 2006, p478).

Jenny Reeves & Nick Boreham (2006) What’s in a vision? Introducing an organisational learning strategy in a local authority’s education service, Oxford Review of Education, 32:4, 467-486

‘Humour, sensitively used, can get a group to handle difficult issues in insightful ways and develop a deeper sense of connection, of we-ness, with others.’ (Novak, 2008, p4)

‘The idea of a warranted meliorism, where bad things might be made less bad and good things might be made better, is based on a view of positive psychology (Seligman, 2002) that has solid empirical support’. (Novak, 2008, p2)

‘The imaginative new passionate leadership involves more than one person, the person in charge, feeling others’ pain and possibilities. It encourages all involved to be active participants, using this social aesthetic sensibility to deepen and create with the felt qualities mutually experienced. Like a good jazz band, a common theme is expressed and imaginative new directions are explored and continued.’ (Novak, 2008, p4)

Chapter 2: Inviting Passionate Educational Leadership by John M. Novak in Brent Davis and Tim Brighouse (eds) Passionate Leadership in Education. 2008 SAGE Publications Ltd, London. Print ISBN: 9781412948623


Finally, one of my main sources of inspiration as I undertake the journey towards Headship, is Headteacher-Blogger and SCEL Fellow George Gilchrist. George inspires me perhaps more than anyone else because he talks from the perspective of his current practice; he talks the talk and walks the walk of evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence:

‘As he was reading now he came across Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Alma Harris, Maryln Cochran-Smith, Helen Timperley and many others. He began to see the importance of being relentless, being focused, slowing down, impact for learners, enquiring into practice and the dangers of initiativitis, fads, trends, snake-oil salesmen, and doing too many things. He began to realise that by doing less it was possible to achieve more. He saw that if he slowed down he could achieve more. He saw how if he connected what he did to the core business of learning and teaching, he could achieve more. He began to feel that if he could do more through having these insights, and acting on them, so could everyone else.’

School Leadership; a Scottish Perspective. Blog by George Gilchrist. At


Strength not shame.

Later this week, all being well, I am going to see a band called ‘5 Seconds of Summer.’
My 12 year old daughter adores them and has got me to love them too. It is such a joy having a daughter with good taste in music who helps you discover exciting new bands and feel a bit younger than your 46 years.
5SOS come from Australia and have been together since their school days; no X-factor manufacturing involved.
You may have heard some of their songs; several have been in the charts and they supported One Direction on a previous tour.
Their music is a mix of feel good upbeat rock such as ‘Hey Everybody’ and lyrical, sensitive emotional songs.

One of the reasons that we love them is that they are real people and real role models.
The song ‘Broken Home’ relates to the experience of growing up in a broken family and dealing with the confusion of parents who no longer get on.
‘Jet Black Heart’ is about the reality of being human and flawed. It talks to young people of the difficulty of emotions and of the reality of depression, isolation and low self-esteem. The video for the song is beautiful; the band invited fans to send them stories of their own struggles and created the video around those fans who have struggled but lived to tell the tale and recover.

These young men have done a huge amount to challenge the false stereotypical images of the music industry. They have shared themselves as humans, not idols or super humans and encouraged their fans to do the same.

So this article made me cross:

The article is written in such a way as to imply a weakness in the band and an impending split; comparisons with One Direction and Zayn Malik are drawn and the scare-mongering tone is neither helpful, supportive of Calum nor responsible, as far as I can see.

To criticise Calum and suggest that he is on the edge of leaving the band misses the point of what these young men are about.
To suggest that Ashton Irwin’s revelation of depression or Michael Clifford’s experience of anxiety and depression are a weakness shows a weakness in the writer’s understanding as to what is needed as role models for our young people.
It is hugely positive that these artists are honest about what they have faced and about the fact that life ..and true stardom….can continue in the face of mental health issues and difficulties.

We need role models like this for our young people to keep challenging stigma. I have written about this here:

Fortunately the fans of the band seem to recognise this, as was shown by their support for Michael after a concert in Michigan last August:

I hope Calum looks after himself and manages to enjoy the tour. I hope that 5SOS keep going for as long as they can. But above all I hope that we can recognise and celebrate the huge achievements, musical and personal of these wonderful, talented honest and ultimately human stars.

Town Mouse, Country Mouse

This post was mainly inspired by three things: a recent thought-provoking article in the Times Educational Supplement about teaching in urban versus rural schools ( ; a conversation with a friend about whether moving to a rural location could be limiting for one’s children; and a wonderful, uplifting radio programme about ‘How to Turn Your Life Around’ with Byron Vincent and Dr Anna Woodhouse (

The gist of the TES article is that, whilst pupils in inner city schools face a range of issues and difficulties that are related to deprivation and poverty, those in rural settings often face deprivation and poverty but without the financial support made available in cities to mitigate against them. The anonymous writer states: “behind the schools applauded for breaking the cycle, lies an enormous amount of money” and “Inner city schools aren’t tough. There is enough help to ensure most problems can be overcome. Rural schools, that’s where the toughest teaching really is.”

Like the writer of the TES article, I have taught in both rural and urban schools, though the vast majority of my experience is rural. I grew up in Dorset and have worked in rural Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, the Outer Hebrides and most recently Argyll.  However, I also taught for 5 years in a comprehensive school on the outskirts of London that drew children from one of the most deprived estates that existed and also from leafy suburbia. I was newly qualified and I struggled to start off. But with time, I got to love the school, the dynamics and the pupils. My life experience was far removed from that of many of the pupils I taught but I learnt that providing supportive boundaries, authenticity and belief in their potential were essential to helping them thrive. Spending a morning with one of my 14 year old tutor group after she had spent a night in a police station was an eye-opener for me and so far beyond anything I’d experienced that it made me wonder how I could be of any help. But in retrospect, I think just being with her and not judging her was the help she needed at that point.

I remember reading Sartre at university and learning how he hated the countryside and stuck to Paris in order to avoid the feelings of nausea brought on by green landscapes. For me, city life was too much and I missed green open spaces so moved out of London and back to Cambridgeshire after my urban stint.

I do not remember urban education being flushed with money in the early nineties and maybe things have changed since I was there. Reading other TES articles recently about austerity measures, cuts and academisation makes me wonder, however, whether the urban budgets to which the TES writer refers may be time-limited.

I certainly agree that education and services for children need to be funded adequately wherever children live; I wrote about that here:

But I do feel that the issue is more than a purely financial one.

One friend who read the TES article said that she felt lack of aspiration was a big issue in rural communities where prospects are limited and I would agree, to some degree. But many of the pupils whom I taught in London showed concerning levels of apathy and a real lack of motivation.

In rural areas, money is not the only solution to problems. Sometimes money will be available but staff with expertise and experience are not. Cities and particularly university towns and cities attract expertise in a way that rural areas don’t. And there are clearly economies of scale and efficiency issues involved; a funder is less likely to pay for a project and worker on an island where there are three children who need support than in an urban setting where the numbers who could be supported might be tenfold more. And another related issue for families and children with additional support needs is that it may be harder to find peer support and others with similar experiences and issues in rural settings. Being the only child with severe and complex needs in a school brings challenges that have to be addressed with sensitivity and creativity. But technology today, if we use it to its best potential, offers opportunities like never before to access online support and networks. You may not have an autism / Down’s syndrome/ mental health expert in your village but you can probably access one online. (

In terms of the conversation with my friend about whether rural life might disadvantaged our own children, that is a tricky one.

Just as Sartre did not like the countryside and I could not live without it, we are all different. Children are all different. Some children will love and thrive in cities and stay their whole lives. Others will do the same in the country. But some children will be desperate to leave the country and make a fortune where the bright lights of the city shine, just a Dick Whittington did before them. And there will be city children, perhaps those who reach the age of ten without ever having seen a farm animal, who dream of a Pollyanna-style future in a country cottage and cannot wait to leave urban life.

Town Mouse. Country Mouse.

Living in a rural setting,  my children have limited access to theatres, McDonalds, choice of school and choice of leisure activities. But they do live in a spacious house that we could not afford if we lived elsewhere, landscapes and archaeology to die for and a school and community where they are well known and safe.

Swings. Roundabouts.

Of course, there is a caveat to the safe issue. The only young person that I have personally known to have been tragically murdered did not live in London but on a Hebridean Island. I am not sure that I will ever learn to live or reconcile myself with the idea of his premature death.

And whilst domestic abuse issues are the constant fodder of Eastenders scriptwriters, the recent Radio 4 ‘Archers’ storyline shows that children in supposedly nice, safe, rural settings can be subjected to terrible domestic situations.

Amy Winehouse came from a comfortable urban background and had a huge range of opportunities but ended up with more money than she know what to do with. It was not money that could save her.

Children and young people are at risk wherever they but our job as parents, carers and educators is to teach them about knowing the risks and making sensible choices.

Deprivation is deprivation, wherever it occurs and we need to ensure that it does not allow the potential of our children and young people to be limited.

Sometimes children aspire and perform way beyond the expectations we may have. Why did the children that I taught for a week in Borneo and walked (unaccompanied by adults) through the rainforest for days on end to get to school have aspiration and motivation? Why do the pupils in the Dunkirk Jungle refugee camp working with Natalie Scott ( have motivation and aspiration?

Labels, statistics and knowledge of a child’s background can help us to mitigate against deficits and make reasonable adjustments. But they are only useful where they are used with care and do not encourage us to make judgements that may lead to negative outcomes. I will never forgive the health practitioner who wrote off a fourteen year old pupil with mental health issues saying “she’s got no hope. I knew her mother and her grandmother and they were just the same.”

Once again I return to the theme of relationships and love which I have written about many times before:,

In every classroom where we work, we can nurture, encourage and help children and young people to thrive. And this, I believe, is where politicians and decision makers do need to make investment. So that all teachers have a chance to think and learn about nurture, relationships and aspiration on an ongoing basis. So that their workload allows time for reflection, supervision and discussion around these issues. So that they are able to nurture themselves and fit their own oxygen masks before they fit the masks of the children on the plane…..because that is how everyone can fly high together and avoid crashing to the ground.

The Radio 4 programme ‘How to turn your life around’ made me cry, punch the air and dance around the kitchen with joy. Because Byron Vincent and Dr Anna Woodhouse (both from relatively ‘deprived’ starting points in life) talked about the crucial role of key adults in their lives who believed in them and helped them develop a sense of worth and aspiration. The programme ended with a clear message: “Are we really saying that love is the answer?…I think we are”.


Recovery and Rainbows

This week I was lucky enough to attend training to become a mental health first aider for young people. It was a hugely informative and inspiring piece of training and chimed a lot with my thinking on optimism, love and solution focused approaches. Some of my previous ramblings can be found here:

We touched on the issue of stigma and discussed how important it is to help children and young people understand that periods of difficulty, mental distress and even mental illness are far more common than they may think. Recovery is very much about recognising that wellbeing can be achieved after and even within such periods.

As the World Health Organisation says: “Mental health is defined 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.”

When I first applied for teaching jobs, the stigma around mental ill health was huge, largely (as I believe) in the wake of the Beverly Allitt case. She had been a state registered nurse who had committed a series of attacks and four murders involving children and babies and was believed to be suffering from the psychiatric illness Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Understandably, medical and criminal checks were tightened up hugely in the wake of this case but it meant that anyone applying to work with children had to give information about any mental ill health dating back 10 years. Ticking a box and confessing to mild depression while at school resulted in a friend of mine almost being refused a permanent teaching contract.

Things seem to be different now, thank goodness. We still vet those who work with children and the most vulnerable carefully and sensibly. There appears to be widespread understanding today, however, that you can suffer from depression, anxiety or even more serious conditions but still cope with life, hold down a job and make a positive contribution. And there. is also recognition that you can feel happy in between the dark periods….and maybe even overcome them completely. Broken for a while is not broken for ever.

I heard the wonderful John Timpson on Desert Island Discs this week, talking about his own experiences of stress and how talking about its debilitating effects has helped both him and others. What an inspiration.

I am sure that stigma still exists in some areas but progress has been huge since my early days as a teacher. Follow the right people on social media and you will know you are not alone.

From rain there can come rainbows. Save a picture of a rainbow…. literally or in your mind… remind you of the beauty that has existed and can exist again.