On 27th April around 130 Deputes and Principal Teachers gathered in the Westerwood Hotel for our annual Leading Edge conference. In a very full day the group managed to find time for a sit-down lunch and freshly baked pancakes with coffee. In the gaps between breaks there were two keynote and two workshop sessions.
The first keynote of the day was delivered by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a research scientist based in Dundee University’s School of Psychology. Suzanne started by suggesting that the Scottish Attainment Challenge would fail unless actions taken under its umbrella were taken with an understanding of emotional trauma and how to respond to it. Trauma leads to challenging behaviour which can include violence, Suzanne suggested that punishment was not the best approach. She noted that our prisons are homes for traumatised people who can’t manage their own behaviour. For those who wanted to develop their understanding about trauma and its impact on learning and life she suggested looking at the ACE Study (The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, 1998 - https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/). Two key quotes from Suzanne’s session were:
“To prompt a change in culture a school stopped talking about challenging behaviour and started talking about distressed behaviour.”
“If we can’t make our children feel safe, we can’t help them learn.”
Following Suzanne’s session delegates attended two workshops, selecting from the themes of: Creating Collegiality; PEF – How good is our school at delivering excellence and equity; Teacher Leadership & Practitioner Enquiry; Laughter as an Attainment Strategy; and, Into Headship – participant experiences & discussion.
The closing keynote was delivered by John Tomsett, an author, blogger and serving HT of Huntington School in York. John’s focus was on being a teacher leader. He started by making clear his belief that it was his job as a school leader to create the conditions for students and teachers to thrive. Part of that job was to remove fear about performance as it stultified progress. If you put your staff first then the results for pupils will follow. John referred to Dylan Wiliam’s work and that of the Education Endowment Foundation which, together, showed that you get big pupil impacts by improving learning and teaching and that this can’t be achieved by being a magpie and simply picking up the next shiny new idea. It requires years of hard work. The job of school leadership teams is to model and enable that hard work and development. He highlighted that the core characteristics of professional learning in schools with disadvantage were a culture that enabled peer support and demonstrated reciprocal vulnerability. He had done this with his staff by installing a service which recorded teachers in every classroom to allow them to reflect and work on their skills. The videos were completely private to the teacher unless they chose to share them with others. John shared his videos with his staff, highlighted things he was working on and asked for advice. Over time his staff now do the same. Two key quotes from John:
“Teachers don’t trust leaders they don’t think of as competent.”
“The only thing we should be doing as leaders is improving teachers.”
A big thank you to all our speakers, delegates and to Wesleyan who sponsored the event and offered a prize draw – Maria Docherty from Oakgrove Primary School, Glasgow was the lucky winner of £50 of Experience Vouchers.