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.
The first in a series of reflections from some participants at our annual conference, Changing Futures, on Thursday 2nd February 2017. More to come! Jamie is a youth and community worker with the Spartans Community Football Academy – a new type of school that’s about a whole lot more than football! Find out more on this link, or contact Spartans directly – details below.
The day kicked off with a review of the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, which looked at the impact of ACE experiences on the child and how this impacts in later life. Some examples of this are:
– Children who suffer ACE’s but have someone to talk to are
less likely to suffer substance abuse and/or crime issues.
– Children who suffer ACE’S are likely to suffer the consequences of these later in life.
– Children with 4 or more ACE’s are 32 times more likely to have difficulties with learning.
We heard the stories of two volunteers, who have both had ACE’s, who have now turned their lives around – one who spent significant time in a mental health institute and the other who is a recovered heroin addict. These young people are now volunteers from the Turn Your Life Around.
The woman who had previously been in a mental institute (amongst several other issues) has now set up her own social enterprise called Real Talk: Storytelling for Mental Wellbeing.
The second volunteer is also now working with a charity called Aid and Abet.
It was particularly interesting to hear the story of Tracy Berry from Forthview Primary School, who is the Family Support Teacher. Her sole job is to engage and build relationships with the parents of pupils at the school. Eileen Littlewood, headteacher at Forthview, says Tracy’s success has “literally saved lives”. She spoke a lot about the importance of helping the parents and the evidence that points towards this directly helping young people in education.
I particularly enjoyed about hearing from two Care Experienced Campaigners from Who Cares? They described their experiences of living in the care system and how they believe it can be improved.
John Carnochan – an “interested bystander” spoke at length about how he believes the education system can be improved – in particular proposed that children shouldn’t start school until they are 7.
Youth and Community Worker
The Spartans Community Football Academy
94 Pilton Drive, Edinburgh EH5 2HF
0131 552 7854
Following last year’s highly successful conference in the Caves, on the theme of “Equity and Aspiration in Education”, booking is now open for this year’s event.
The theme will be “Changing Futures: Believing in our young people” chosen by the SELMAS Committee to continue the focus on issues related to the educational experiences of those young people whose needs are not being met by our current system. As always we have signed up a number of spirited and challenging speakers to stimulate discussion and reflection.
These will include:
John Swinney MSP, our Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills who will outline current Government strategies designed to “Close the Gap.”
Mairi Breen, headteacher of Braehead Primary School who will describe how her teachers are making a real and lasting difference to children in their school who are living in poverty.
John Carnochan who as a senior police officer worked for many years in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland where the levels of poverty and deprivation were usually matched by a sense of hopelessness and disconnection from society.
Cathy McCulloch, Co-Director of the Children’s Parliament which works with children in the context of family, school and community. The Parliament connects children with each other, with adults, with their communities and allows them to influence the development of better services for children.
Sarah-Jane Linton and some of the young people from Who Cares? Scotland which is a national voluntary organisation, working with care experienced young people and care leavers across Scotland.
As always the Conference aims to offer stimulating and creative thinking around this key issue for all educators, and an opportunity to engage with others in thought-provoking discussion.
The venue is the Radisson Blu Hotel, 80 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TH and the date is February 2nd 2017
Book via eventbrite: http://bit.ly/SELMAS020217
This conference is supported by and in partnership with SCEL, the Scottish College for educational Leadership
The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling will be hosting a seminar ‘Are Current Educational Reforms Really Democratic?’, led by Professor Michael Apple The seminar will take place on Monday 20 June, at 4pm. Professor Apple is one of the foremost educationists in the world, and the seminar promises to be both stimulating and challenging, as well as very relevant in the context of current educational reforms in Scotland. To sign up for this free event, please reserve your place on our eventbrite link
Welcome back to session 2015-16. Everyone at SELMAS wishes all our followers; leaders, educators and students alike every success and best wish for the new term. To kick things off we have organised our fourth Brainstrust event – this time in the new Malala Library in the recently rebuilt James Gillespie’s High School. We are grateful to Mr Donald MacDonald of the school for letting us use the premises and also to the Centre for Confidence and Well-being for their partnership in this event.
What is Brainstrust?
Brainstrust is a SELMAS speciality – it is a SELMAS type of discussion event we like to host on a very topical issue; sometimes in response to a document or report which is relevant to educational leadership, or sometimes on a question or problem which has been ruminating within the system and surfaces at a certain time.
Being an independent body of volunteers we can organise these events quickly, so they have a bit of a “pop-up” feel. Keep on the look-out for them as you don’t often get much warning! To do this we rely on friends and supporters, so we always have a partner organisation with us in brainstrust.
We call these events “Brainstrust” because they involve serious thinking about serious issues and true to our principles, SELMAS does not defend any particular agenda in the course of the discussion but allows all manner of questions to be asked – difficult and awkward ones included, in order to allow a space for mature, open, informed and sometimes critical conversations about educational matters to take place.
If you are on our mailing list a flyer will be arriving in your inbox very soon. But as a special reward for reading our blog you can preview it here: Flyer for Brains trust 9.09.2015 and get your booking in early via eventbrite. Looking forward to seeing you there!
Professor Mel Ainscow gave the one year anniversary lecture recently at the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at Glasgow University. The theme was equity and improvement in education – something close to the work of SELMAS in recent times. You can find information and slides from the talk below. Contact the Robert Owen Centre directly if you’d like to be included on their mailing list for future events.