Annette Beaton is Head Teacher at Crieff Primary School and SCEL Fellow. In this post she reflects upon her participation at the International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement Conference in Glasgow earlier this month.
The International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement 2016
Connecting teachers, schools and systems: Creating the conditions for effective learning
with sub-themes of:
- Teacher effectiveness, teacher quality and professional learning
- Leadership development and practice to build sustained improvement
- Partnerships and collaborations: schools, agencies, government, research
- Policy translations and mistranslations
- Researching the conditions for effective learning
- Self-evaluation: schools and systems improvement.
A Headteacher’s highlights
It has been my enormous privilege and pleasure to participate in the ICSEI Conference, held in Glasgow last week and I thought that reflection on the experience would give some structure to the action planning I now intend to set in place.
Before I started to participate in The SCEL Fellowship Programme, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know there was such an organisation as ICSEI. Now that I am aware of the range and scope of the organisation I have become very excited about the possibilities there are for schools through engagement with this highly effective learning centered group of international representatives.
Reflections throughout the Fellowship led me to consider: how could I find out more about ICSEI, what impact could the work of this organisation have on my learning, the possibilities for building capacity at school and system level and most importantly, how the work, learning and thinking in and around ICSEI could impact on meeting outcomes for children in Crieff Primary School.
Last November I was invited to present at the annual IPDA conference in Birmingham and as a result Gillian Hamilton, CEO SCEL, suggested that it would be appropriate for me to present on the Fellowship Programme with Professor Clive Dimmock, Robert Owen Centre, in Glasgow at ICSEI 2016, which we did on Thursday alongside John Daffurn, SCEL, and Jackie Purdie, Bannerman High School, and SCEL Fellow.
It’s now 10th January 2016 and ICSEI 2016 closed yesterday and so, time to reflect on whether the preparation for and attendance at the conference met my aspirations of impacting on the continuing improvement of our schools and system and further built my capacity to contribute.
To address this, I’m going to note my highlights from the conference and hopefully set these alongside the impact they will have on my thinking and practice.
The conference opened with the first keynote being given by the First Minister, welcoming delegates to Scotland and at the same time launching the new National Improvement Framework to meet the aspirations of Excellence and Equity for the learning of children and young people in Scotland.
The debate and professional dialogue resulting from this, with the reflections from colleagues in all areas of education across Scotland and perspectives from renowned international colleagues, will help further shape my thinking on the impact of the introduction of the National Improvement Framework in my school, my community, and how this will be reflected in schools across the country.
There were further keynotes throughout the conference:
- Professor Graham Donaldson CB: The Improvement Trap.
- Dr Rowena Arshad OBE: Effective Schools Need to Engage with Street Stories.
- Professor Allan Walker, Hong Kong Institute of Education: Two Buckets in a Well: Searching for Conditions of Success in Chinese Schools.
- Marieneves Alba: Education is a Fundamental Human Right and Essential for the Exercise of All Other Human Rights. (UNESCO)
- Pasi Sahlberg, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can’t Make it Drink! How the Global Educational Reform Movement Impacts School Improvement.
All were very thought-provoking and had messages and thinking points for all of us to consider in terms of system improvement but also for me, in terms of thinking how to continuously improve learning for children in my school.
The keynotes were as significant as they were diverse and as disconnected as they were interdependent. Clearly Allan Walkers’ keynote has set up the “Two Buckets” in my head, while also becoming a theme of the final two days. I’m going to enjoy watching it again and taking time to look at the balancing acts he talks about, in relation to the work in our school and the considerations to which any system needs to pay heed in moving forward.
Each of the keynotes was recorded and they are therefore accessible from the website providing some great work for Headteachers and local authorities to use with staff. I would highly recommend watching the keynote on New Community Schools in New York, while Rowena Arshad’s presentation provided us with a list of really probing questions for reflection. The keynote from Pasi Salberg, who was described by one of the very eminent university professors at the conference as one of the “rock stars” of the educational improvement world, was highly engaging and challenged people to consider how we can move to system improvement heaven.
Louisa Rennie from Australia chaired the first seminar session I attended and as well as listening to the illuminating presentations by Karen Edge, Lynn Sharratt, Carol Campbell and Alma Harris, it was possible to have informal chats with Louisa and Karen. These provided a catalyst to re-explore some of my thinking over the past few days, particularly in relation to the work I have been carrying out with SCEL over the past 18 months on leadership preparation and training.
My next highlight was meeting Carol Campbell from Ontario and sitting down to have a coffee between the afternoon and evening programme, talking about the progress made over time in Ontario in a real, people-centred, non-policy driven way from the perspective of the practice shifts which allowed change to happen.
The evening session of day 1 produced a further highlight through participation in an interesting chat with Clive Dimmock, Graham Donaldson and Ian Potter, a HT from Southampton, on supporting teacher agency through professional enquiry in the magnificent setting of Glasgow City Chambers.
There was no such thing as downtime and much hugely valuable dialogue and learning took place through the social programme which complimented the formal presentation of papers.
Examination of Day 2 in the 79-page Programme booklet was a task in itself and we (those involved in the SCEL Fellowship programme) were presenting in the middle session alongside a paper on the Energy and Interconnected work of principals in California, and the research being carried out internationally on Social Justice Leadership, with the Scottish research being headed up by Christine Forde and Dee Torrance.
Some of the informal discussions I took part in were on the merits of rural education versus city educational settings; learning about teacher accreditation in other countries; very specific discussions on extending the professional learning in my own school by looking at it through a different lens; and ways to connect with international colleagues.
Finally, because the conference was in Glasgow, our school leadership team members were able to attend the practitioner day on Saturday and absorb the atmosphere, ethos and culture of a major international conference; by lunchtime they were buzzing with the possibilities offered by even this glimpse into the work of ICSEI through the learning they will now take forward, personally and professionally through their careers as school leaders in the future.
So, the important question is whether or not my hopes and aspirations have been fulfilled and questions answered. I have always been a committed learner, in my own individual way, however I am now more aware than ever of the need to be a connected learner and the beginnings of a plan are now forming which will help to ensure that as headteachers, we connect effectively and become better collaborative learners.
The role of a Headteacher is, in many ways known for its complexity, but how much better could it be if we had networks of shared learning looking at the research and information more accessibly available to us. Learning is hard work, we know that, but we also know that when we focus on the meaningful, we become re-energised, reconnected with our purpose and revitalised to take the hard work forward.
And so from the initial excitement and feelings of being like a child in a sweetie shop on Wednesday afternoon, to the somewhat tired but re-energised, inspired and motivated Headteacher who left the conference on Saturday, I can only conclude that this experience has had a profound impact on my professional stance as a Headteacher in Scotland, has underlined my belief in the power of learning for school improvement and has reaffirmed my commitment to being a small part in the big movement in our national agenda to transform the education system in Scotland from good to great.