#brainstrust – Rowena Arshad on interdisciplinarity and silo thinking

Here Rowena talks about the importance of the report for the School of Education at Moray House and highlights the need for more international collaboration and practice based research

Rowena Arshad at #brainstrust

SELMAS 2011: Donaldson and me

Catriona May 25th 2011

The theme of the recent SELMAS dinner on May 24th at the St George’s Centre, Edinburgh was Donaldson and Me and a succession of impressive speakers shared their personal responses to the Teaching Scotland’s Future review.

The themes picked up by the various speakers didn’t hugely surprise: Linda McTavish, Principal of Anniesland College was enthused by the prominence of partnership working in the review, and talked about how this was a functional necessity in her setting – without their partnerships with business, industry, schools etc the college really couldn’t operate. This addressed the issue of providing a bit of the “how” that was identified in discussion as missing from the report – bearing this in mind, sharing the Anniesland experience in partnership building and working might be a useful thing to do.

Jaqueline Scott, HT at Trinity Prmary School Edinburgh mentioned improving quality and entry selection as priorities, and also called for greater flexibility with time commitments for probationers, suggesting greater flexibility with time management and allocations for probationers. She suggested longer continuous stretches in class, then concentrated, focussed periods out of class to really reflect, share, consolidate and build on their experience. The weekly 0.7/0.3 split is sometimes seen as rigid and disruptive, and it stands to reason that a more flexible system would be more user friendly. Something for further discussion at the Probationer Support event we’re organising next week at SMC.

Gillian Hamilton was on her favourite subject – leadership; and asking what difference Donaldson will make to this theme. Looking to the future, the role of HTs will no doubt change, as it already has since Gillian was in the role and not necessarily in a positive way, with more attention to risk assessment, budgeting, behaviour and grievances tending to sometimes eclipse the HTs role as lead learner in a school. The virtual college, as suggested by Donaldson via the national CPD team, will provide a focus for CPD and connecting school leaders and should also help shape and support the various leadership roles a forward-thinking profession for the future might require.

The most contentious discussion of the evening came during the panel discussion at the end when Cara Aitchison Head of School at Moray House, Edniburgh saw Donaldson’s recommendations as an invitation to the TEIs in Scotland to diversify and offer specialisms, but suggested that the “traditional” model of teacher education ( research and university based) is best suited to an institution like Edinburgh, and more “vocational” approaches might be better if left to ” institutions in the west.” Not surprisingly, there was quite a reaction to this Interesting! No matter how teachers enter the profession, there is some merit in what Stephen Heppell says: “if they can’t make schools spectacularly good, what are they doing training teachers?” It makes sense – TEIs should be modelling the best in education and for a profession fit for our times, is that best done through lectures, essays and seminars? This relates tangentially to the discussion but is relevant none the less.

Other memorable moments: HT from Govan said his best teacher was his granny because

she knew him
she loved him
she knew how to get the best out of him. Simple, really.
And another HT from Edinburgh expressed some concern at the homogeneity of students coming into the profession; regretting the demise of the outlyers, the mavericks, the independent thinkers (and operators) who took risks, often defied authority and still commanded respect, made big impressions and like the aforementioned granny, got the best out of young people.

Sadly the discussion was just beginning to get interesting when the evening was brought to a close. SELMAS is a loosely constituted, open organisation which provides a forum for leadership – I hope we continue the conversations.

Comments on this post:

Margaret Alcorn May 26th, 2011 at 7:13 am
It was a fascinating evening. If you’d like to know more about SELMAS or are interested in being added to our contact list for future events then please email me.

Catriona May 26th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
Jacqueline Scott spoke of the challenge of encouraging all staff to engage in CPD – this article might be of interest: “School professionals’ attitudes to professional development in a networked context: developing the model of believers’ seekers, and sceptics.”
Available in the Professional Development in Education journal

Lindsay Paterson May 31st, 2011 at 3:09 pm
The discussion sounds interesting, and the responses intriguing. If Donaldson is to get us anywhere it will have to recognise that amongst the many problems with the way in which we have understood teaching is the untenable distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ expertise. The vocational needs the theoretical, not only empirically grounded theories of learning, child development, cognitive functioning and psychology, but also – in many instances – the scientific, technological and social scientific theories which are indispensable to the effective use of applied knowledge. That is as true of, let us say, Anniesland College as of Edinburgh University. The ‘academic’, on the other hand, is never merely that, because all knowledge, however theoretical, is also at some point applied because it is about how our minds work and how they seek to understand each other and the world around us: to draw a distinction between science and technology, or between literary studies and human discourse, or between social science and the everyday understandings that we all seek to have of how our society works is not only untenable intellectually, but also utterly unhelpful to the teacher in the classroom.
The most admirable feature of Donaldson’s report is its recognition that teaching needs better theory – theories of knowledge, and theories of learning and teaching – and also that those theories which are adduced in support of teaching must not only be more rigorously developed than they are at present, but also must be more consistently applicable. If my own university (Edinburgh) has anything to contribute here, it might be in the range of disciplines through which it seeks to develop knowledge that is part of the school curriculum, and knowledge also that is about how people learn; but, if that university does have a role to play, it can only do so by recognising that such knowledge is developed in many other places right across Scotland, and that, in particular, the understanding of how to make the knowledge useful to pedagogical practice is the monopoly of no-one.

Margaret Alcorn June 6th, 2011 at 12:38 pm
Thanks for this, Lindsay. The issue you raise regarding the need for academic and practical expertise to be seen as individually necessary and together sufficient formed much of the discussion at my table at SELMAS. A couple of colleagues expressed the view that the Donaldson Review had somewhat flinched from exploring how the challenge implicit in this might be taken forward. However from the discussion at this and other recent events, it seems there is a shared commitment among many educators to finding opportunities for university staff and teaching staff to work together in new and innovative ways, and it seems clear that this process will require more recognition of and respect for the expertise and knowledge that already exists across the educational community.