SCEL staff

Celebrating Scottish Modern Apprentice Week

To celebrate Scottish Modern Apprentice Week, digital manager Louise Henderson had a chat with administrative assistant Emma to gain an insight into what it’s like being a modern apprentice at the Scottish College for Educational Leadership.

Hello, I’m Emma, and I started my modern apprenticeship with SCEL in July 2015.

If you’ve ever been in to visit, or called us on the phone, we may have met before – part of my job is to welcome people to our office and answer incoming calls!

I wasn’t sure about going to university after school so when this opportunity came along I jumped at the chance. My job was brand new within the organisation so there were lots of different things for me to get involved in and I was quickly introduced into the busy world of office life.

When I started at SCEL, we were just getting ready to launch the Framework for Educational Leadership. It was a really exciting time for us and it’s now part of my job to look after the administration of the Framework, and to assist teachers who are using the resource.

No two days are ever the same in our office and there’s always a lot going on! My colleagues are always out and about, visiting schools all over the country and I look after them by booking their travel and accommodation.

I also get the chance to get out and about to help them sometimes, and last month I really enjoyed attending the ICSEI (International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement) conference which was held at the Crowne Plaza in Glasgow. Along with my colleagues I helped set up our information stand, organised our merchandise and promotional material, and chatted to the conference delegates – informing them all about our work and our teacher leadership programmes. I got to meet people from Hong Kong, the Netherlands, California and Nigeria and it was great to speak to them and learn about other organisations involved in education from all over the world. I felt really proud to be there representing SCEL.

Since I’ve been employed as a modern apprentice I’ve become more confident and I’ve learned a lot. Choosing a modern apprenticeship has been a good option for me. I’m working towards a Diploma in Business Administration and through working at SCEL I’ve been able to get a wide range of hands on experience. The knowledge and skills I’ve gained will really help me later on in life, and I’d really recommend it to anyone who is unsure what to do after school.



Our response to the consultation on the development of a Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland

By Lesley Whelan – Director of Programmes/Depute CEO, Scottish College for Educational Leadership

I don’t know about you, but if you were to ask me to lock my mobile, tablet and laptop in a safety deposit box for a week, I’d be at a real loss. I certainly know my children would feel the same!

Digital technology has already transformed the way we work, learn, communicate, connect and play – so personally, I find it really interesting to hear about the ideas that teachers, digital experts, school leaders, and young people themselves have for embedding new technologies in education.

I’m really pleased that the Scottish Government is in the process of developing a Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland. It’s a huge opportunity to be both ambitious and inventive in our thinking, and undertaking the consultation with the information events was a chance for people from across the education system and beyond to get involved and share their views.

Here at SCEL, we firmly believe in the benefits that technology has to offer all forms of learning, and we’re keen that Scotland has an education system that is confident in the use of technology and can promote further innovation, creativity and engagement.

We were pleased to see the work that SCEL is engaged in features in the consultation document as we believe there are a number of areas we can support, and we really welcomed the opportunity to share further views on the development of a strategy generally and also on those specific areas where we think we can help and add value.

We believe it’s essential the strategy is seen as core to Learning and Teaching and relevant across the profession rather simply the domain of enthusiasts. We believe consideration needs to be given to how the strategy is embedded and implemented within the system making effective use of multi-level leadership from non-specialist senior leaders through to specialist/enthusiast teachers. And we believe collaborative working is going to be crucial to success.

We’re particularly keen that the definition of digital learning is broadened to include the notion of growing creators in the classroom. It should relate to all things digital not just from a consumer point of view and skills for work and life. This would then support the term ‘learners’ as outlined in the strategy, also including teachers. Teachers often use their own devices and can struggle to integrate these effectively into school networks and practices.

Teachers as learners also need effective access. It’s imperative to have experienced leaders involved who are not specifically “into” technology, but understand the potential within the more general framework of improvement to support engagement of teachers at all levels.

A step to enable broader engagement could be placing greater emphasis, during the ITE phase, on teachers as leaders of innovative practice. This would help support the notion of teacher leadership at an early stage as well as build confidence in the use of digital technology in learning and teaching. School/teacher cultures should be encouraged to be supportive of teachers new to the profession being enabled to take leadership roles to continue to develop their own skills and confidence and those of their colleagues.

Fundamentally, the strategy needs to be ambitious and realistic, not idealistic in terms of change, resourcing, expertise and current levels of digital confidence across teachers and others to ensure successful implementation.

I think SCEL’s Framework for Educational Leadership can support implementation of the strategy, working with partners to ensure a range of professional learning opportunities is available to teachers at all stages to equip them with the skills and the confidence to perform their roles effectively.

If you’d like to read our full response to the consultation, you can find it on our website.

What’s your view on this? Did you submit your ideas and thoughts through the consultation?  Where do you feel SCEL could add best value to your own learning in this area? Don’t forget to #tellscel

I look forward to hearing your ideas. In the meantime, I’m off now to view some of the presentations online from the ICSEI conference (some available here) – it’s all about the learning – wherever, whenever!


Connecting teachers, schools and systems: Creating the conditions for effective learning

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.

IMG_2020cropSo, 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.

Teacher Leadership

The Link between Innovative Educational Practice and Teacher Leadership; a Student Teacher Perspective

Roy Harris is a 3rd year BA Hons Primary Education student at the University of Strathclyde. He has been involved in supporting innovation in primary education and in this post he explores the links between innovation and teacher leadership.

As my learning has developed I have become increasingly interested in innovation and teacher autonomy in education. This year with some student colleagues I started a small working group and website ‘Innovation in Primary Education’ as a means to exploring what it means to be innovative in educational practice, and for what purpose. Our working group seeks to share innovative, alternative and creative practice drawing on key ideas, sharing those ideas, and then actively assimilating those ideas into our own teaching and learning. We aim to draw on the experience and reflections of our peers as a means of developing our own classroom pedagogy as part of a continuous and meaningful process of improvement. In this sense innovating our classroom practice is good practice, and sharing our practice leads others to innovate their own approaches. Our group defines innovation as ‘a new and creative way of doing things that is effective’. As we have explored ideas and themes it is apparent that to be innovative in practice is closely linked with teacher leadership and teacher agency. This blog reflects my thoughts on the link between innovation and leadership in education.

I am committed to the idea that we should take an assets based approach to improving our education practice. I think there is a tendency to forget that there is so much that is good about our education system; we are getting a lot right (see OECD report Improving Schools in Scotland 2015). In this context innovation isn’t and should never be about scrapping what went before wholesale or devaluing the status quo. It is not about rubbishing existing practice. It is about building on our strengths, adapting where necessary, identifying areas that can be improved. It is essentially about continuing professional development that as practicing teachers we should always be actively involved in. In my view, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was designed to provide autonomy and adaptability for teachers to respond to the learning needs of our children and young people; it is a pathway to meet the requirements of an uncertain future. The ability to adapt; to innovate practice and to share practice – therefore – should be part of every teacher’s skill set. Teachers need to be able to adapt their practice and be exercising a continual process of improvement. I would argue that this is central to what CfE is all about; giving teachers a genuine opportunity to be ‘agents of change’ with the clear goal of creating the best educational experience for our children and young people. To do this we need to be responsive. To achieve this teachers need to be able to lead and, crucially, be given the freedom to lead.

To be truly responsive as teachers we need to be leaders. That is we shouldn’t need to wait for instruction, we should have the agency and self-efficacy to act; to lead. Additionally we should be engaged in collaboration with other teachers in education. This was a central idea to our working group. A teacher should have the support and agency to enact new ways of doing things that are effective. That is the goal, to improve practice to increase the effectiveness of our teaching. The key, however, is to share what works and not be afraid to try something new. One teacher doing something innovative and effective in one classroom has a limited outcome i.e. only the children in that classroom benefit. But, if the teacher can then lead and demonstrate to fellow teachers what they are doing through a process of collaboration then the ‘benefit effect’ spreads. If ideas can then spread to other schools then teachers can adapt those ideas into their practice and their schools if appropriate. Schools should be working together in active collaboration, not pitted against one another in active competition. The effect then could become real and tangible change that is purposeful, effective, and led from the classroom.

Something that I fear may be lacking, however, is a culture of faith and trust in our classroom teachers. If we are to look to educational systems that work such as in Finland then first and foremost we need to see that one of the most important hallmarks of the Finish system is trust (Sahlberg, 2015). Teachers are respected and trusted to use their judgement to respond to the needs of their class learners. Whilst we cannot simply transpose one educational system from one country to another for social, economic and cultural reasons we can surely recognise that we need a cultural shift in how we perceive teaching as a profession. Teachers need the autonomy and trust to lead the learning of our children and young people, not be told what to do and when to do it. Of course teachers should justify what they are doing and why they are doing it, there must be rationale behind practice. But the trust, support and opportunity should be in place by school management to facilitate classroom teachers to collaborate and lead the direction and innovation of their students’ learning.

Stigler & Hiebert (1999) sum up the importance of collaboration and teacher led innovation perfectly:

‘The star teachers of the future will be those who work together to infuse the best ideas into standard practice. They will be the teachers who collaborate to build a system that has the goal of improving students’ learning in the ‘average’ classroom, who work to gradually improve standard classroom practices. In a true profession, the wisdom of the professions’ members finds its way into the most common methods. The best we know becomes the standard way of doing something. The star teachers of the twenty-first century will be teachers who work every day to improve teaching – not only their own but that of the whole profession.’

With the support of school management and the school community, and working in collaboration with my colleagues I hope that as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) and beyond I can be, and have the opportunity to be, a ‘teacher leader’ whom leads innovative and effective classroom practice.

OECD. (2015, December). Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective. Retrieved December 2015, from OECD:
Sahlberg, P. (2015). Finnish Lessons 2.0. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Stigler, J. W., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press.

SCEL Framework

Happy New Year

With the New Year almost upon us, now’s the natural time to start thinking about our hopes and dreams for 2016.

Like millions of others across the country and beyond, I try to stop, relax and reflect during the quieter period between Christmas and New Year, and I often use this time as an opportunity to think about my own life goals, and the various things I still want to achieve.

And like many others, my New Year’s resolutions tend to include things like eating better, taking more exercise or revisiting an old hobby. I’ve recently joined a gym in an effort to achieve that exercise goal, and have even bought new training shoes in anticipation! Often, I think about learning a new skill, and every year I also try to think about my resolutions in a professional context too.

As you’d imagine, as the leader of an organisation dedicated to professional development, continuous learning is a personal priority. I’m a firm believer in looking to the future and taking ownership of what it could bring. Last year, I embarked on a huge personal learning curve as the first Chief Executive of SCEL, and had to quickly learn a whole host of new skills required for establishing a new company, at the same time working hard to keep abreast of research and new thinking about educational leadership across and beyond the Scottish system. This year, my plans are to continue to expand my knowledge across financial and business planning strategies, to ensure that I lead SCEL forward as a thriving and growing organisation. I also want to learn more about what other countries are doing as they drive forward similar leadership goals and strategies.

I’ve found that regular self evaluation and reflection helps keep me on the right path, meaningful success measures are helpful in tracking my progress (as well as showing me how far I still have to go!) and keeping a record of what I’ve done and what the impact of my learning has been is a brilliant reminder of how far I’ve come. Together, these three things give me an opportunity to really focus on my goals, to think specifically about the things I’d like to achieve, and to consider what I must do next to help me reach my full potential.

It’s an approach I’d recommend to others, and – funny enough – it’s an approach with sits closely with our Framework for Educational Leadership which was designed with self evaluation at its heart.

If you’ve not yet started using the Framework, it’s something I’d highly recommend, and something that teachers at all levels across the country tell us is already starting to impact on their practice.

Accessible from anywhere, anytime, the Framework is an online resource of professional leadership learning opportunities which aims to support better leaders, teachers and of course better outcomes for our young people.

It is self directed, which means you’re in control. You identify your own strengths, shape your own development and direct your own learning journey by selecting different types of professional learning opportunities as and when you want and need them.

Perhaps it’s one for your own resolution list?

Personally, I’m really excited about 2016 and what it can bring – I hope you are too.

Happy New Year from all of us at SCEL, and here’s to your ongoing success.