Wednesday, 27 February 2008

One day to go!

A team from HMIe is with us on Thursday and Friday of this week for our follow through inspection. We had five areas to address from the previous visit in 2006 over the past two years.

In summary, they were:

  • Positive Behaviours
  • Tracking and Monitoring
  • Pupil attendance
  • Learning and teaching
  • Self evaluation

I hope that over the next few days we will be able to demonstrate the amount of progress we have made over the past two years in each of these areas. Our staff has been magnificent in how they have responded to the challenge that was laid before us.

Report on how we fared to follow at a later stage.

Monday, 25 February 2008

HTs' briefing/training

I attended a really helpful and interesting session for headteachers this afternoon at Goodtrees community centre. The meeting began with a welcome from David Wright (Neighbourhood manager) and a brief update on where we are as an Authority in our cost cutting/restructuring programme. Next up was a brief summary on School Safety from PC Steve McGill. It was great to learn that there is a sharp downward trend across our area of Edinburgh in terms of incidences of vandalism. This shows what can be achieved when the relevant groups work together in a cohesive and coordinated manner.

'Closing the gap' was the second item of the agenda and this was a presentation from Jamie Heatherington who works in strategic planning with Edinburgh council. Jamie was keen that each of us thinks about what we can do in our different contexts to 'close the gap'. This is an issue that I am really interested in, particularly, given the very diverse intake we have at Liberton High. The notion of a 'gap' is an interesting one and can mean different things to different people.

The highlight of the afternoon, for me, was a presentation from Christine Knight (HMIe district Inspector) on using 'How Good is our School 3'. I very much liked her practical approach to using the QIs and generally keeping things simple. I agree with her when she says that too many schools and departments can fall into the trap of trying to do too much at once. I look forward to working with Christine again on Friday when she and HMIe colleagues join us for our follow through inspection.

The afternoon closed with two excellent examples of good practice on School Self Evaluation from Rose Islambolipoor (Gracemount Primary School) and Stephen Phee (St Thomas of Aquin's inspection.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Castro blogs ok!

I learned this morning that 'El Comandante' Fidel Castro has been blogging for the last year or so. Writing in today's 'Times' Moises Naim suggests that 'El Comandante' does what bloggers do: he comments on the news, chastises enemies (Bush, Aznar), extols friends or rambles on subjects he cares about (sport and politics). I have tried to find a link to his blog but, thus far, my search has been in vain. I am curious to see what the man who has been the most enduring figure in world politics throughout my lifetime writes and says. Will he offer an alternative perspective on Leadership that we, in the corridors of Education, can all learn from? What can we learn from a man who has, allegedly, survived over 600 assassination attempts and successfully defended his island fortress against several invasion attempts; most notably the Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961. ''Bloggers know that one of the risks is inadvertently to expose too much amount themselves''. I know that I grapple with this too in my ramblings. Fortunately, at least until now, I have yet to experience an assassination attempt. Oh, and I almost forgot to say what a lovely kind and generous man Fidel is.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Active learning

At Liberton in recent months I have had discussions with several colleagues about 'Active Learning'. What I have discovered is that active learning can mean different things to different people. Generally, we tend to associate active learning with being physically active but being cognitively active is surely just as important and effective as a means of learning.

I came across this article on-line recently - I think it is a useful discussion starter about active learning and may be used by me at a future in-service.

Explanation of the Components

This model suggests that all learning activities involve some kind of experience or some kind of dialogue. The two main kinds of dialogue are "Dialogue with Self" and "Dialogue with Others." The two main kinds of experience are "Observing" and "Doing."

Dialogue with Self:

This is what happens when a learner thinks reflectively about a topic, i.e., they ask themselves what they think or should think, what they feel about the topic, etc. This is "thinking about my own thinking," but it addresses a broader array of questions than just cognitive concerns. A teacher can ask students, on a small scale, to keep a journal for a course, or, on a larger scale, to develop a learning portfolio. In either case, students could write about what they are learning, how they are learning, what role this knowledge or learning plays in their own life, how this makes them feel, etc.

Dialogue with Others:

This can and does come in many forms. In traditional teaching, when students read a textbook or listen to a lecture, they are "listening to" another person (teacher, book author). This can perhaps be viewed as "partial dialogue" but it is limited because there is no back-and-forth exchange. A much more dynamic and active form of dialogue occurs when a teacher creates an intense small group discussion on a topic. Sometimes teachers can also find creative ways to involve students in dialogue situations with people other than students (e.g., practitioners, experts), either in class or outside of class. Whoever the dialogue is with, it might be done live, in writing, or by email.


This occurs whenever a learner watches or listens to someone else "Doing" something that is related to what they are learning about. This might be such things as observing one's teacher do something (e.g., "This is how I critique a novel."), listening to other professionals perform (e.g., musicians), or observing the phenomena being studied (natural, social, or cultural). The act of observing may be "direct" or "vicarious." A direct observation means the learner is observing the real action, directly; a vicarious observation is observing a simulation of the real action. For example, a direct observation of poverty might be for the learner to actually go to where low income people are living and working, and spend some time observing life there. A vicarious or indirect observation of the same topic might be to watch a movie involving poor people or to read stories written by or about them.


This refers to any learning activity where the learner actually does something: design a reservoir dam (engineering), conduct a high school band (music education), design and/or conduct an experiment (natural and social sciences), critique an argument or piece of writing (the humanities), investigate local historical resources(history), make an oral presentation (communication), etc.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Inservice day

I was really chuffed at the end of yesterday's in-service training day for staff, when several sought me out to say how much they had enjoyed the day. How often do you hear staff say that they enjoyed a whole staff training day? It was certainly a first for me!

We will of course look at the evaluations and feedback in more detail but I thought I would take a few minutes to recap on what really was a most stimulating and thought provoking day. We started off at 0830 with refreshments and bacon rolls for everyone. The first item on the day's programme was mine gave me the opportunity to update staff on progress with our Improvement Plan and to say a little about what we need to focus on in the lead up to next weeks HMIe visit. I was pleased to say how far we are on wit
h this session's plan and to see how positive staff feel about next week. Next Carol Brown (DHT) demonstrated electronic period by period registration ahead of today's launch. This was followed by Carol briefing staff on recent changes to child protection guidelines.
Following a break for tea/coffee and croissants, an hour and a half in departments and a sumptuous buffet lunch (provided by staff on a 'bring a plate' basis) we moved into the afternoon session.

The afternoon session
(superbly organised by DHTs David Russell and Drew Macrae)was focussed on learning and teaching. The opportunity was taken to showcase some of the best practices at Liberton High. All staff were encouraged to share and steal good practices from around the school. Each department was requested to contribute at least one item each to a display of materials arranged around the hall. Pleasingly, many departments elected to contribute several items. The hall was an Aladdin's cave of teaching and learning treasures.

  • We had three different departments showing us how they used Studywiz, an online learning environment, to engage students in on-line learning. (I now know much more about Henry Moore, Sculpting and Maquettes!).
  • Social subjects staff showed us how they had developed some innovative teaching approaches in line with those recommended in the Assessment is for Learning (Aifl) initiative.
  • Members of the PE department demonstrated the use of 'Dartfish'. This is software that is used to edit and analyse images and footage gained through video photography.

  • To close the day's proceedings Graham Crawford gave us a very stimulating overview of how Science Teaching at Liberton has been influenced by research and developments in thinking skills.
What really pleased me most about the day was that all of our presenters and contributors were from our own school. The amount of talent and range of expertise on our staff was really inspiring and gives me great hope and confidence for the future.

Bil Gates Speech to High School in USA

Bill Gates allegedly, (see comment below) recently gave a speech at a High School (in the USA) about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make £60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping - they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into terms. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If you can read this - Thank a teacher!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

February break

It's back to work tomorrow for Edinburgh teachers after a one week long February break. It was great to have a break from the work routine and to spend quality time with my own family. We spent four days in London visiting friends and taking in some of the sights during an unseasonably warm February. A particular hit with my girls was the visit to China town, still resplendent with all the decorations from the chinese new year festivities. I enjoyed the 'London eye' and the opportunity to get a bird's eye view of London. I was really impressed with the efficiency and the cleanliness of the tube system. We have an excellent bus system in Edinburgh, but I am envious of other cities that have an alternative means of getting around. Whilst on the tube at rush hour one day, I was particularly impressed by the courtesy shown by one young man who immediately stood up and offered his seat to my wife. I hadn't experienced any one doing this in many such travels on the tube over the years.

In two weeks time we welcome back HMIe. In the coming weeks I will write a bit more about my experiences of being involved with HMIe since they visited us initially in January 2006 and then again in May 2007.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Classrooom observation aka sharing classroom experiences

One of the perks of my job is being able to go and visit teachers' classrooms to see them do what teachers are best at doing - teaching pupils. Teaching and Learning is our core business and any opportunities we have to learn to do things better must be grasped with both ha
nds. One of the most effective ways to learn to be a better teacher is to observe colleagues in action. One of the lessons I saw this week was with Gill O'Connor, English department. This was a lesson you wish you could bottle and uncork to order. There were so many good practices on display that I won't embarrass Gill by mentioning them all but I feel I need to mention one. How do you get 14 year olds to not just read but become absorbed in and enthusiastic about Romeo and Juliet? Do you just read the text to them (this was my school experience) or do you compare and contrast Shakespear's use and choice of language with lyrics by Christine Aguilera? The latter approach resulted in twenty 14 year olds and me being enthralled from start to finish of what was an outstanding lesson. I will want to reflect further on how best to share this excellent practice with colleagues so that all pupils can benefit from one of the really gifted practitioners in our schools.

Scots Scientists top of the class

It was great to read in today's press that our country's scientists are generally regarded as world leaders in research. Have a look at for the report. This is really good news. As a small country, it is so encouraging to see that we are continuing a long tradition of excellence in research and development. Where would we be without pencillin, TV or pneumatic tyres? How long will be be able to lay claim to being world leaders in research? From a secondary headteacher's point of view I am very concerned at how little funding I have available to support the work that takes place at grassroots level in schools. If our universities are to maintain the status they currently enjoy, schools will need to be able to do much more in terms of nurturing and developing the talent in our ranks. We simply cannot do that on a shoe string budget. There is a real danger that we will run departments down to such an extent that it will be almost impossible to start up again, when, not if, Science, once again, becomes flavour of the month.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Chinese New Year

Along with my family and close friends, who also have two adopted Chinese daughters, I had the pleasure today of attending the Chinese New Year Celebrations at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. The performances from a range of artistes were outstanding. A particular hit with the girls were the acrobats from Mongolia. The same performers were involved with Alan Stewart and co. at the pantomime at the Kings through December and January.

The contributions made by a pipe band and a Scottish singer Tom Collins (a former pupil of mine from Porty High) really added to the occasion. It was great to see the Edinburgh Chinese community and the Scots celebrating together in style. After this, it was off to join other families from around Scotland who
have also adopted from China.

In the weeks ahead, I am keen to explore ways in which we at Liberton High can develop ways in which we can develop links with the Chinese community to further broaden our curriculum.