Professional Learning Communities: Why bother?⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

I imagine some colleagues thinking something along these lines about being in a PLC:

Seriously Robert, I do buy into the whole improvement thing, but if you want me to get better as a teacher, why don't you just observe me, then tell me something that I could improve?  I'd be up for it.  Why do I have to spend hours attending PLC meetings, observing, coaching, being observed and being coached?  It just seems like a huge waste of time, when we all know that we are desperately time-poor as teachers.

I would respond as follows:

 There are many reasons why I think it is better to be in a PLC than to follow your suggestion, even though PLCs take more time.

1. Being told to make a change to one's practice rarely leads to a permanent change in practice.  I wish this were not true, but all the research I have seen indicates that it is.  And not just for other people - it is true for you and me!

2. PLCs  improve the capacity of participants to drive their own improvement. Even if my intervention in your class did lead to a permanent change in your practice, further intervention would be required from me to elicit further improvement in your practice.  My effort is like pushing a car with square wheels. It moves, but generates no momentum of its own.

3. In your PLC, you will (if it works well) be exposed to the ideas of colleagues and educational thinkers in a way that challenges and deepens your thinking about education, learning and teaching.  You will reflect critically on the ideas of others, and have others challenge your thinking.  This is the real meat of professional learning. You get none of this if I tell you how to change your practice.

4.  I don't necessarily know how you can improve your practice.  Nor do you!  The best you can do is to reflect on your current practice, look at what research says, try something that has been seen to work for others, and evaluate the impact that the change in your practice has on your learners. This is how we work in PLCs.  This approach puts you in control of your own practice.

5. PLCs offer you enormous professional autonomy.  The price for this autonomy is your commitment to continuous improvement throughout your career, and to engagement in the systematic processes that drive that improvement. The alternative is to go through your career being told how to get better by others.

5.  The new standard for full registration  expects you to have a reflective, enquiring, research-engaged approach to your practice. PLCs will support you in developing this stance.  My telling you how to change your practice will not.

A Glow Blog Answer⤴

from @ John's World Wide Wall Display

super ruper by nnnnic Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

I’ve been trying to post information about the glow blogs migration here when I can, but still getting a few questions, via email, twitter etc. Here is a series of DMs:

Hi John. Been following the progress of GlowBlogs and reading your own blog. Question: Can I go ahead and set up a class blog using…

‘Old Glow’ and get class using it….then it’ll transfer across to ‘New-Glow’ with the bells and whistles in he coming weeks (months) ?

I (and other member of staff) really want to get cracking on this. How would we ensure the old style blog ‘goes accross’? Need to tell..

someone where it is?

Quite a few folk have asked the same sort of thing, can/should I set up a glow blog/e-portfolio now or wait?

The answer is: Yes if you set up a glow blog now it will be migrated to the new service.


There will be a procedural content freeze, and the possibility of downtime if we do not make the 3rd of October deadline (we are working very hard to ensure we will).

Content Freeze

The database and files that make up the blogs are currently on RM servers, this need to be moved to new servers. Given the size of the data this will involve copying onto a portable disk. The copy will be encrypted. The disks need to be moved, the encrypted data securely moved to the new setup, unencrypted and verified. The new system then need to be thoroughly tested.

During this time the old blogs will be up and running, but any content added to them will not be migrated and new blogs setup during the content freeze through the old glow Sharepoint portal will not be migrated.

I am not sure how long the content freeze will be but it looks like being a week or so.

We will publicize the content freeze as much as possible, telling Glow Key Contacts in each Local Authority, publishing on Glow Connect and I’ll post here and tweet.

We also hope to be able to add a warning message on the dashboards of all the current glow blogs, but that solution needs to be created and tested.

Professional Learning Communities: What do I mean by a PLC?⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

PLCs have been around for years in a variety of guises, including Teacher Learning Communities in the Dylan Wiliam/Tapestry model.

As I understand them, PLCs aim to improve the learning of pupils through the professional learning of teachers.

Our implementation of PLCs at North Berwick High School has grown organically over a period of 18 months, and has been described both as "The Coaching Project" and "Coaching for Professional Enquiry".  We eventually settled on "Professional Learning Communities" when we realised that our model bore so many similarities to other implementations that it seemed pointless to hold on to our distinct name.

The North Berwick PLCs are groups of eight to ten teachers who have volunteered to participate.  They come together for 75 minute meetings six times per session, and participants engage in peer-observation, peer-coaching and collaborative professional enquiry throughout the year.  Each PLC is chaired by someone who has previously participated in a PLC. The meetings provide opportunities for planning, goal setting, reporting back on progress and discussions about pedagogy.

Our PLCs are founded on the following principles:

  • every teacher needs to improve, because every teacher is capable of improving
  • improvement comes through increased awareness of our impact on learners, and through taking responsibility for developing our own practice
  • improvement comes through taking a positive, solution-focused approach
  • improvement comes through being asked good questions, not through being told what to do
  • improvement comes through looking in the right places
  • improvement comes through reflection, enquiry, evaluation, discussion and feedback - not through judging or being judged

Professional Learning Communities: Establishing Norms⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

This will be something like the tenth post in a series (if I ever write the previous nine!) about the work I have been doing to establish and support professional learning communities (PLCs) at North Berwick High School (NBHS).  It's a long story, which began 18 months ago with the growing realisation that the real work of professional learning looked more like personal growth than  "going on courses".

A potted version of the story so far...

I became very enthusiastic in 2013 about the potential for peer-coaching to support the professional growth of teachers.  This enthusiasm coincided with my temporary promotion to depute head, and my embarking on the Flexible Routes to Headship programme.  My FRH project became the development of PLCs supported by peer-coaching, initially in a pilot project of ten volunteers.  I failed to secure the permanent depute post, but continued to lead the pilot PLC as head of maths during the 13-14 session.  The pilot was deemed sufficiently worthwhile by the participants that they all agreed to be facilitators of PLCs this session. Meanwhile I secured a permanent post as depute head at NBHS. I launched PLCs with the whole staff on the 19th of August, as a voluntary professional learning opportunity that they could opt-out of if they felt able to meet the aspects of the standard regarding engagement with research, evidence of impact and collaborative learning in other ways. Only a handful of staff opted out - all of whom who were about to retire this session or next.

I am absolutely delighted that so many colleagues are giving PLCs a go, but rather anxious too.  I am anxious to ensure  that we deliver on my promise that PLCs will provide  rewarding, challenging experiences for teachers - experiences that will lead to real learning for them, and thus to real improvements in the learning of our pupils.

The PLCs are meeting for the first time this Friday.  I am acutely aware, as Katz says (in the first video here, and in his book Intentional Interruption), that "there is no magic in collaboration" and that our PLCs must, therefore, adopt deliberate practices that avoid making "together... worse than alone".

Clearly PLCs are not new, so we benefit from the experiences of those who have gone before.  All of my reading points to the importance of each PLC establishing its own norms, so this will be the principle agenda item for Friday afternoon.  I like this activity, purloined from this pdf:

A Strategy for Establishing Team Norms  
Ask team members to think of a past negative experience they have had serving on a team or committee  and to identify a specific behavior that prevented that group from being effective: for example, whining and complaining, arriving late and leaving early, being disengaged during the meetings, and so on.  
For each negative norm identified by members of your team, establish a positive commitment statement (a norm)  your  team  should  adopt  that,  if  everyone  adhered  to it,  would  prevent  the  past negative experience from recurring. 
If any readers have experience of establishing PLCs, I would very interested in any advice they have to offer!

The year ahead…⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I was recently asked what my priorities are for this academic year, and I realised I hadn’t given it that much thought. It’s good to know what it is you want to achieve if you want to have any sort of chance of actually achieving it, hence this post.

So, this year I want to…

  1. Become a better teacher. This seems like an obvious one, but in the past I think I’ve sometimes been so busy with all the other things I get involved with that I’ve lost sight of this the most fundamental aspect of my job. In particular, this year I really want to try and further develop my ability to involve learners in their learning. I’ve already started this with my new S1 class by kicking off the year by planning our first topic together which I hope to evaluate more fully than I have done in the past.
  2. Develop a great new Higher Biology course. This is probably the reason that I hadn’t considered my priorities for the year already. The development of the new NQs has a tendency to be all consuming, even more so than I was expecting to be honest. I think the CfE Higher Biology course is a significant improvement on the old Higher and so I’m happy to be delivering it but, finding the time to make it fab is an ever present challenge.
  3. Become a better mentor. Our department is lucky to have two NQTs this year and I’m a mentor to one of them. This is the first time I’ve mentored an NQT surprisingly and I’m looking forward to learning how to do it well as the year progresses.
  4. Develop and embed our school’s fledgling approaches to supporting professional learning. Last year we piloted our PLPL programme and developed our Learning Coach model both of which need more thought and energy this session.
  5. Continue to manage, grow and develop the Pedagoo phenomenon. I’m looking forward to (and petrified by) our coming event at my school this September and hopefully a PedagooPrimary event later in the year.
  6. Give as much energy as I can to the external groups I’m a member of. These include the Edinburgh Uni Teacher Education Partnership, Education Scotland’s National Digital Learning Forum and the GTCS Research Engagement Group. Once upon a time being a member of these sorts of groups meant going along to a meeting, saying what you think and leaving the actual work to someone else. Increasingly these groups now involve a higher level of commitment than this, which is great in terms of the engagement you get as a result, but also places greater challenges on your time obviously.
  7. See if I can support colleagues in other schools. Although all of the above, on top of also being a dad and husband, doesn’t leave a lot of ‘spare’ time, I’m keen this year to see if I can find the time to explore whether or not I can be of assistance to other schools. I’m already talking to a couple of folk which is perhaps enough, but if you think I could be of use to your school maybe drop me a line? I’m thinking I could possibly be of use in the areas of developing classroom practice, leading professional learning and using technology.

Yikes. That’s quite a list. Chances are I won’t manage all of this but it’s good to set yourself high standards…

Interglobalmindednessnalism and the Power of Fizzy Drinks⤴

from @

When I was a kid one of the first colour TV ads I remember watching was about Coca-Cola. Remember the one? “I’d like to build the world a home… furnish it with love” etc. Lots of strategically arranged young people of various ethnicities, some in national outfits. All slim, good looking, blessed with decent haircuts and able […]

Chaining down the goalposts⤴

from @ Learning Stuff About Stuff

I discovered this week that all hockey goals in my authority are now padlocked in place by chains, following an unfortunate incident when someone climbed on top of one and it fell over on top of them, to their considerable injury. The PE teacher that told me this was complaining that this made it very awkward for them to move the goals, which they often want to do in order to use the playing area flexibly.

I don't know enough about this situation to comment on the wisdom of the decision to padlock the goals in place, but it struck me at the time that this institutional response is a great metaphor for the way that we, as individuals, respond to painful experiences in our lives.

When we experience pain, especially in response to the actions of others, we have a strong tendency to react internally by seeking to shield ourselves from further pain. Unfortunately, this defensive response also restricts our openness to receiving positive experiences in future.  In some small way we become less alive. And if we are not careful, we go through our lives repeatedly protecting ourselves, and repeatedly becoming safer but less alive. Like an institution where everything is safe but nothing functions.

Clarifying the workflow⤴

from @ John's World Wide Wall Display

Clarify icon

I’ve spent a fair bit of time when working at North Lanarkshire and back in school in creating howto instructions for software or computer tasks. Generally this involves organizing a bunch of screenshots and text on a page. I usually use Pages (or sometime comiclife) occasionally Word. I’ve though of myself as quite competent in grabbing screenshots (cmd-shift-4 on a mac, spacebar toggles rect/window capture), switching to pages (cmd-tab repeat tab until pages is selected and let go), and pasting the image in (cmd-v) before command tabbing back to where ever the screenshots are coming from.

Recently I’ve been making a few help sheets for glow blogs and on a whim remembered Clarify. I’d tested it but not been impressed for reasons I can’t recall. I got the application through a macheist software bundle a while back. Given I’ve quite a lot of screen-shooting to do I though I’d give it another go. I was quite please to find that I qualified for a free update to Clarify 2 My first impressions of the application have been overturned.


Clarify 2 is great for making documents that consist of a series of screenshots and text. The great advantage the application has from a more manual approach is workflow.

  1. You launch the application
  2. Switch to the application you want to explain
  3. Work through the process taking screenshots (cmd-shift-2) as you go.
  4. The screenshots are placed in a clarify document. Clarify stays in the background.
  5. After taking all of the screenshots you can switch to clarify.
  6. Work through the sections, adding titles, descriptions and annotating the images with the built in tools.
  7. Export to word, pdf, html.

You can copy and paste as rtf or publish to WordPress, dropbox or (the latter is a free beta at the moment).

As you work through the clarify document you can resize the screenshots, annotate them and combine them. The defaults are sensible and the annotation tools are both simple and powerful.

Clarify Interface

The exports can be further enhanced with templates, but I’ve not tried that yet. The publishing to wordpress has worked well in a couple of tests.

To round up, clarify seems to save time buy improving the workflow, decreasing the amount of tinkering and adjusting to be done and exporting to several useful formats. The application costs £18.70 for mac or windows and there is a Mac/Windows Cross-Platform License at £24.94. Well worth the money in my opinion.

Desktop Wallpaper for September 2014⤴

from @ Gordon's Ramblings

Desktop Wallpaper for September 2014

Here is my desktop wallpaper for September 2014.  The original shot was taken in Corisa and the image created using fd Flickr Toys.  If you like the image then please feel free to download and use it yourself.

Over the past few years we have started taking our main holiday during this month.  It makes for a long summer but is a wonderful release when it gets here.  During last September we took a 14 night cruise around the Western Mediterranean on the P & O Ventura.  We didn't really know what to expect when we got to Corsica.  What a beautiful island.  You will find more pictures of Corisca and the rest of the cruise in my cruise Flickr album.