Guest post from Karen Docherty, headteacher at St Agatha’s RC Primary School and Nursery in Fife

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.

Karen Doherty

Headteacher
St Agatha’s RC Primary School and Nursery

Spring forum 2014 – part one

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Our spring forum last week was a huge success – yet again. The theme of social justice clearly inspired us all, as did the three outstanding contributors and although there’s a lot more to be explored around the social justice theme, SELMAS is proud to support debate and dialogue of such high quality within the Scottish educational world.

This first comment on the evening comes from Martin Ennis, recently appointed DHT at Forrester High having been Curricular Leader Expressive Arts at Forrester for 7 years. Martin was previously teacher of Music at Falkirk High for 6 years. He is has a very keen interest in leadership and linking theory and practice in a collaborative way.

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On Thursday 15th May I attended yet another engaging and thought-provoking Selmas conference in the beautiful surroundings of St George’s School for Girls in Edinburgh. We had the usual well-established mixture of fantastic speakers, lovely food and great debate with colleagues from all over Scotland.

The theme of the evening was on the challenge of Socially Just Leadership and began with Rosa Murray, General Teaching Council of Scotland presenting her reflections on the evening’s topic. Rosa reminded us that social justice is part of our DNA and that we must ensure it is fully embedded in our education systems, offering leaders in education a way of thinking that can lead to a fairer world for our young people regardless of class, background etc. Rosa shared some truths surrounding Scotland’s approach to socially just leadership and highlighted that we had not yet cracked it according to OECD reports. She shared with us some stories from her own experiences which challenged us to consider our place as leaders in schools and asked us to always remember why we entered into education – not to set out to achieve targets (although of course these are important), rather to instil in young people a sense of moral purpose and the importance of strong values that will see them well through the many challenges life will throw at them. When I reflected on these comments I couldn’t help but think about my own upbringing. Initially, education wasn’t for me but what I did get out of school, together with strong family support, was a sense of fairness and the ability to be listened to and to have choice in how things could be improved for me and those around me within many different settings. Surely if we want socially just schools we really must consider how we shift the power of our relationships so that young people know they are being valued and listened to in the same way as adults. The challenge is how we successfully achieve this. The student voice is regularly talked about in schools in terms of how we allow young people to have a meaningful say in their learning – are we truly getting that right yet?

Our second speaker was Anne-Marie McGovern, Head Teacher at St Benedict’s RC Primary School in Glasgow. Anne-Marie challenged us to consider how we translate those strong values we considered earlier into practice in schools when we face so many other challenges in our profession. She gave us some examples of her experiences of working with children who have immense difficulties and how they feel life is very unjust for them at times. As leaders, Anne-Marie said it was our place to show fairness, support, courage, love and integrity for these young people so they feel valued and that their successes are valued and celebrated. We want young people to feel emotionally safe and only when this happens can we truly get them to engage with the curriculum. When listening to Anne-Marie the GIRFEC agenda kept coming into my head – how we are working to ensure a streamlined approach with our partner professionals, making sure those who need that support get it and that young people are part of the planning of that support together with their families. That I guess comes down to relationships in schools – how well we know our young people and their strengths and how we value and support them as individuals. I’ve been thinking about this more and more recently in terms of how we work together in teams, how we improve our professionalism when we work together meaningfully – not just teachers but teachers together with students. I feel we are on the right track in Scotland. In my experience, we have colleagues and students working together in schools on a number of topics that are designed to take forward improvements for young people, improvements too that relate to how young people experience and learn crucial life skills, for example, through Global Citizenship, Right’s Respecting Schools, Digital Leaders etc – all of these giving young people a voice and building meaningful, stimulating and relevant learning experiences. Anne-Marie finished by sharing her strong views on how we need to engage with parents and work closely with our partner agencies to ensure we get it right for every child in Scotland.

Our last speaker, Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Social Services, gave a personal perspective on social just leadership in a way that engaged everyone. Anna challenged us to consider the difference between leading on social justice and being a socially just leader – what we say and what we do in contrast to how we behave and how we show and demonstrate what we believe in. She shared with us some of her strong views on that, amounting to respecting and valuing every person as an individual regardless of their job/hierarchy. Anna told some stories relating to her personal experiences within education and I found myself thinking more and more positively that we are moving in the right direction here. She explained how pleased she was to see through her children’s experience in school that much has changed – schools are now listening more to our young people and are engaging them in their educational experience. I believe that’s true.

For me, cracking social justice is something we’ll always be working on, but that’s the key I think, working on it. We are all leaders within education and the challenge for leaders is surely about creating fairness in our schools, valuing each young person as an individual in the same way we value other adults, recognising talent in everyone, promoting that talent. We must ensure everyone has access to an education that is supporting all to achieve and attain while building life skills in young people through that sense of strong moral purpose. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and once again came away buzzing with ideas which I’ll no doubt find challenging at times to implement back in school, but it won’t stop me trying!

Martin Ennis
Depute Head Teacher, Edinburgh
@EnnisMartin

SELMAS is grateful to the Scottish Government for their support and sponsorship

Guest blogpost from Jase Bain, teacher participant at Brainstrust

Curriculum for Excellence is a major shift change in the way we think about education and learning. Initially, the four capacities were prominent, then experience and outcomes, now it’s nationals. I do agree with the SELMAS brains trust panel that the essence of the four capacities has been lost. Furthermore, it seems scandalous that schools are busying themselves developing materials for national qualifications when it is likely that Education Scotland, SQA and private publishing companies are likely to produce materials that can be used in classrooms. However, materials for the broad general education have been out on hold, despite the fact that every secondary school in Scotland could have a different BGE. Is our BGE broken?

Every new initiative in education is about leading change. Our leaders need to be empowered to maximise their resources fully, including buildings, materials and most importantly staff. Major changes in education and budget cuts are meaning that staff are continuing to be stretched and more is being demanded of them, thus meaning that there is less flexibility and creativity within the sector. I feel that being given time to be creative is absolutely critical in providing an education service.

Leadership at all levels is key. Pupils, parents, teachers, principal teachers, deputes, head teachers and education officers all have a part to play in ensuring that cfe is successful. One thing is for sure, cfe is the first of many challenges to face Scottish education in the next 10 years. Some attention and thought is needed on: how schools are accountable, local authority control, furthering professionalism, conditions of service including career structures, and development of the next phase of curriculum for excellence.