This is a guest post from Jay Helbert of SCEL. Jay chaired this year’s forum and also wrote this interesting reflection about his impressions of it – thanks on two counts, Jay, from your friends at SELMAS.
This year’s forum took place at St George’s School, Edinburgh with a focus on the child outside the system. This was my first time at a SELMAS forum and as chair, I took this as an opportunity to challenge those in attendance to be provocative, think creatively and be brave in their conversations and beyond. This is not to say I think teachers and education leaders are fearty or faint of heart. In fact to do the very jobs we do requires great doses of fortitude, courage and resilience. Rather the challenge was to use the forum as a space to imagine and think beyond the system.
We were joined at the forum by a number of innovative thinkers who, more importantly are also innovative doers. First of all, Paul Blackwell, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service told us of how a chance conversation with a colleague in Police Scotland led to him tackling the issue of gang violence and anti-social behaviour. This is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when people think beyond the traditional and prescribed parameters of one’s role or agency to create sustained change. Paul’s message was clear and reflected what was to become a theme of the forum:
“Be the person who brings change about, often it starts with you.” His philosophy of developing solutions with gang members rather than delivering solutions to them, or worse doing things to them is an example of genuine engagement.
The second speaker of the night was Fiona McKenzie, a former music teacher who now runs Centre Stage Communities Ltd, an organisation that uses the arts (and food) to engage people of all ages – current members range from 3 weeks to 106 years old. Fiona’s talk achieved that rarest of things by having people laughing one moment and choked up the next. This wasn’t mere ‘edutainment’ though. Fiona discussed her team meetings where, when new ideas are discussed, staff are encouraged to ask, “What’s the best that can happen?”. This take on an old question shifts the emphasis to encourage people to imagine a preferred future and then set about making it happen.
He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
– Outwitted by Edward Markham
Fiona was followed by Ian MacMillan, an experienced leader from the financial industry and third sector. Ian is a non-executive director and chair of Cyrenians, a charity that re-engages those who are excluded, from education, employment or society. Ian was very honest about the fact that teachers and school leaders face a wide range of challenges, from bureaucratic demands, through to the changing nature of curricula and assessment arrangements. He did, however encourage us all to remember the passion we have for education and continue to kindle the spark that glows within.
“You can’t light the spark in others of it’s not burning brightly within – the greatest thing a teacher does is light a spark, create a trigger moment which creates passion, confidence and allows learners to be free.”
Ian shared his learning from David Marquet’s experiences as a submarine commander when he turned USS Santa Fe from the worst rated ship in the US Navy, into the best. The key messages can be found in this inspirational and short video clip.
Our final speaker of the night was Gillian Hunt, who reminded us of some stark statistics about the number of young people who leave school without a ‘positive destination’ or more worryingly without a sustained positive destination that enable independent living and positive life experiences. Many children leave school at 16, but moany of these have disengaged by time they are in second year. Again Gillian was clear that the majority of young people are engaged in school and are served well by schools, however she is seeking a solution for those to whom school is perhaps not the most conducive environment for learning. Inspired by Newlands Junior College, Gillian is working with a range of partners from the public, private and third sectors to establish a junior college in Edinburgh.
The forum finished with a very lively panel session where we explored the question – should we have to leave the system to bring about real change? This led to some deep discussion about the definition of ‘the system’ (are we not all the system?), the power of Mavericks (should we subvert the rules if we know it is the right thing to do? If so what risks do we take?) and how any individual can change such a vast system (one lone actor can seem like a nut, but when followers join, you have a movement).
“We but mirror the world. All of the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we change ourselves then the tendencies in the world will change.” Mohandas Gandhi.
Throughout the night, I was reminded of an analogy my first head teacher, used to use; some people are like thermometers – they are good at telling you it’s too cold. Others are like thermostats – they figure out that it’s too cold and then do something about it.
It’s up to you folks. Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?
Personal Note: This blog is a personal reflection of the night as experienced through my eyes and ears. The beauty of SELMAS forum is that because of the structure and wonderful people present, every single person will have had a unique experience – it would be great to hear yours.
Equity and Aspiration in Education; The Caves, Edinburgh
Reflecting on the conference I was struck by one particular issue raised by Carol Craig, Chief Executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being and author of ‘The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence’. After the last few months of witnessing the unfolding of the refugee crisis in Europe, 13 November saw two opposite and equally momentous events unfolding. At almost the same time as Scotland welcomed the first group of refugees from Syria and offered a hand of friendship and opportunity, the people of Paris were subjected to a horrific attack on their liberty. I considered how the values of equity and aspiration are reflected in completely opposite ways in these events and Carol Craig raised this very issue in her keynote address.
Carol spoke of the way in which the balance of equality and equity in society equate to citizens’ general sense of self-esteem. She explained to the conference how research indicates that, as these values decline, low self-esteem becomes a breeding ground for the outworking of actions such as bullying and race related violence by those who feel they are at the bottom off the social pecking order as they seek out others whom they see as even lower than they are to blame and lash out at. I contemplated whether or not this might be part of what we are witnessing in the sink estates of Paris?
On a lighter note ….
This year’s conference was organised to take place in a unique venue and at the outset Neil Craik-Collins provided us with an insight into its historical significance. During the 18th Century the Caves were one of the venues used by the Oyster Club whose members included James Hutton (father of modern geology) David Hume (philosopher), Joseph Black (chemist) and Adam Smith (economist). Members engaged in deep thinking and debate about the issues of the day, this we intended to emulate while stopping short of eating oysters, drinking claret, and indulging in communal orgy!!
Neil reminded us that, although Adam Smith is remembered as an economist and is often misquoted in the context of capitalist thinking, his intent was to ensure that an economic system would provide an equitable society where every worker would have the means to “wear a linen shirt”.
Our own Oyster Club namesake, Professor Walter Hume provided the first keynote address .Walter, by his own admission, is well known for disturbing the status quo and did not disappoint!
His amusing and yet incisive comments challenged current political policies aimed at ‘Closing the Gap’ and raising attainment as inadequate since school equality on its own will not achieve social equality while reminding us of the notoriety of politics as a short term game where politicians often use “policy a spectacle” [e.g. standardised testing?] and only add to the problem.
Considering leadership he questioned the current emphasis on school leadership, pushing responsibility (and blame?) onto head teachers while their hands are tied by the policy makers. How would you assess the quality of leadership at the upper levels of the educational establishment?
So…..what impact is all of the policy making, discussion and debate really having on young people? Care leaver, ex young carer and now poverty campaigner, Chris Kilkenny’s (twitter: @KilkennyChris) experience, in a society which prides itself on providing free education for all, provided a real wake up call. As a young boy Chris’s story was used as part of the ‘Wrong Trainers’ series and he explained how his choices at school were limited because there was no money in the family to pay for things like Home Economics, school trips etc. Without blame or self-pity Chris articulated how it really is and what really can make a difference to a young person in poverty. His solutions were not sweeping policy changes or grandiose schemes but a considered plea to simply care. Care about the young people in your class, school and community. Ask if they are OK? Keep asking even if they reject you, don’t let anyone be invisible, make sure education really is free. Chris challenged us to consider: What one thing could you do to make a difference to one young person today?
Jim McColl has certainly taken that challenge personally and is currently making a real difference to the lives of the young people who now attend Newlands Junior College, Glasgow. Seeking to close the ‘opportunity gap’ for ‘young people who are trapped’ in the poverty cycle, Jim echoed Chris’s plea for relationship building with the young people and their families, challenging the lack of parity between vocational and academic education. While I admire this initiative and am grateful that someone is indeed doing his bit to make a difference, it seems to me unfortunate that Jim has had to develop an independent school in order to achieve this. Perhaps GIRFEC really means that there is a need to provide more appropriate provision to meet the needs of our young people in more diverse ways and not maintain what we have been guilty of in recent years i.e. an interpretation of inclusion which forces the impossible on comprehensive schools, expecting them to be ‘all things to all men’ and recognising that one size will not fit all!
Meanwhile, within the state system, Gerry Lyons was able to provide a positive and encouraging account of his very successful comprehensive school where 67% of the young people live in homes on the lowest 15% income brackets. Using what he says staff affectionately call a ‘Stalinist’ approach his mantra is “never settle for second best”. By applying this to every aspect of schooling from employing the best teachers to assertively encouraging and supporting young people, he described obstacles as things which you can jump over or get around but commented that sometimes you just have to have the courage to barge through them. Schools need to have ‘extra mile’ people who are committed to doing everything they can to help young people achieve to the best of their ability. For me another reminder that whatever the policy makers decide it’s relationships with the young people and their families that will make the difference. Everybody needs to be doing the right thing Gerry challenged us to consider……….. What is your right thing?
While the Cabinet Secretary for Education reminded us that the government is committed to equity and excellence I came away encouraged that there is a recognition and a will amongst professionals who recognise that equity is not just about school education, it is about the whole system surrounding families and communities and not ignoring the resources the people themselves bring.
Schools can however be the places which make a real difference for young people. Lead by head teachers who have the courage and the conviction to make decisions about budgets, about people, about curriculum structures and about partnership working that will sustain a culture where not only young people, but professionals themselves, are encouraged, supported and given permission to do the right thing.
Jayne Horsburgh, SELMAS committee member
On 27th January 2015 we will be co-hosting a discussion with our friends at Character Scotland and the University of Strathclyde. The theme of the discussion is:Questions of Character – supporting children and young people to flourish. You’ll find more information and the booking process here – please join us if you can for an open and stimulating discussion.
Isn’t it great when your role delivers a wee unexpected bonus?
Well, I had one such delightful experience at the SELMAS Spring Forum 2014. I’d booked a place there but, to be truthful, my motivation to attend had dwindled somewhat. Work had been especially demanding recently. An early night was very appealing…
Tired, hungry and a little frayed by the challenges of the term I made my way to the reception area to be greeted by smiling, friendly members of the SELMAS committee. It soon became apparent that the event was not going to be as intense and formal as I’d expected. Indeed, it felt relaxed but purposeful which proved to be the case throughout the evening. The speakers were very good. The topic: social justice and leadership.
At times the narratives were poignant, often funny, sometimes controversial; each unique but sharing a battle cry for connection and communication.
Rosa Murray, the first speaker, urged us consider whether we are truly enabling our young people to have their voices heard. She spoke of a perceived power imbalance in some school contexts and the evident risk of tokenism in pupil councils. She questioned the messages sent when pupils were prohibited from expressing a peaceful response to social injustice.
I was lucky to find myself sitting beside the next keynote speaker, Anne-Marie McGovern, whose compassionate recount of her school’s context chimed with many in the audience. For others, it was revelatory and refreshing – especially when she spoke in terms of her admiration for those children attending school daily, despite enormous difficulties. She modestly recounted the successes achieved in her school despite these barriers and quietly challenged us to find better ways to support our young people. She was very eloquent in her plea for parenting lessons to become part of the standardised curriculum.
Finally, we heard from Anna Fowlie who charmed us with her entertaining and thought provoking personal perspective on the subtle differences between being a socially just leader and socially just leadership. Much of what she said focused upon values and actions, with the importance of congruence. She insisted that the way we treat people, young or old, should reflect respect and dignity. Anna’s description of leadership was embedded in respect and she urged all socially just leaders to be good listeners.
I can’t adequately reflect the quality content of the Spring Forum in this tiny post but would encourage you to check out the clips and then, better still, come along to the next SELMAS event. No matter how tired you may feel, no matter how many tiny work-related piranhas might be feasting on your brain, try to come along. You won’t regret it.
I found the opportunity to engage in high quality professional dialogue, with passionate people (in a lovely environment) to be energising and surprisingly, fun. As I said at the start – an unexpected bonus. It recharged my professional batteries just when I needed it and SELMAS may well offer something of value to you too.
St Agatha’s RC Primary School and Nursery
Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh
“Inquiry as Stance: Local and Beyond”
Prof. Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Cawthorne Professor of Teacher Education for Urban Schools, Boston College, USA
“Getting Beyond ‘What Works’”
Prof. Pat Thomson, Director of Education Research, Nottingham University; Editor of Educational Action Research.
“Impact: What impact? Whose impact? Educational Practice, Educational Policy and Research Excellence.”
Director of Education and Professional Learning
The General Teaching Council for Scotland
The key aims of the conference are:
• to provide a forum for educators to consider current and future opportunities, challenges and issues related to establishing and supporting high quality practitioner enquiry/action research/self study for educational professionals.
• to explore how we might raise the profile of small scale, high impact research, particularly within universities within the UK.
• To offer extended group discussion sessions in which, with the aim of planning for action, we can consider – Moving from Practitioner Research to Publication with Impact.
Cost: £75 which includes a buffet lunch and all light refreshments.
To register for this conference:
Organisers: Morwenna Griffiths and Gillian Robinson
Administrator: Valerie Clark
SELMAS FORUM, 15 MAY 2014, ST GEORGE’S SCHOOL, EDINBURGH
We have newly finalised the speakers for this year’s SELMAS Forum. The theme is The Challenge of Socially Just Leadership and the three speakers are Rosa Murray of the GTCS, and Anne-Marie McGovern, Headteacher of St Benedict’s Primary in Glasgow and Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Social Services Council. See the post below for booking but don’t hang about – places are disappearing very fast!
Improving School Leadership: Can our current strategies deliver? June 3rd 5.00 – 6.30
City of Glasgow College, City Campus North Hanover Street, 60 North Hanover Street, Glasgow
Plans for the Scottish College for Educational Leadership are now advancing and a new CEO will be appointed soon. Join us for an open discussion on all aspects of educational leadership and on whether SCEL will deliver its stated objectives.
Margaret Alcorn (Convenor of SELMAS) will host the event, and Margery McMahon Lead National Co-ordinator for SCEL, Walter Humes, Visiting Professor of Education at the University of Stirling, Rodger Hill, QIO in Dumfries and Galloway and Sue Beattie, Headteacher at Belmont Academy in Ayr.
This will be a free event but, to ensure that we can match numbers and accommodation, please let Alex Wood know if you intend attending. SELMAS looks forward to a great discussion and welcoming our many west of Scotland members to our first recent event in Glasgow.
We are grateful to Glasgow College for hosting this event. SELMAS gratefully acknowledges a grant from the Scottish Government in support of leadership development work in Scottish education.
SELMAS is grateful for the support and sponsorship of the Scottish Government.