Education – ‘a messy business’


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Learning & Teaching | Posted on October 12, 2014

Once upon a time,  at a teacher inset event (it seems a very long time ago) I remember Brian Boyd (Emeritus Professor at Strathclyde University) saying ‘Education is a messy business’. I’m not sure if he was quoting a favourite luminary or giving his own thoughts, but after more than 35 years in ‘education’, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked in a range of very diverse primary and secondary schools (from Possilpark in Glasgow to Mearns Castle in East Renfrewshire) and also ‘on the dark side’ in a couple of Local Education Authorities. I’ve been privileged to see at close hand schools in the USA, Australia, Germany, Portugal, Malaysia and most recently in England. They’re all so different and yet so similar. Governance, local politics, resources, parental expectations, pupil aspirations and the weather are a few of the many variables.

Schools where teachers talk with each other on learning & teaching issues (often referred to as professional dialogue) and occasionally observe each other seem to be far more likely to be successful than schools where teachers work in isolation behind closed doors. If schools adopted a consistent approach for teachers to plan their work in a collegial way and, for example, discuss and moderate each others marking, there would be an expectation of improved outcomes for kids. And in a time of fiscal challenge, surely the only practical, sustainable way forward with ‘professional development’, is, in the main but not exclusively, for staff in local schools/communities to support and develop each other. The widest variation in teaching quality is not to be found between schools, but within individual schools. In my experience, every school I’ve worked in has had many teachers with talents and capacity for sharing their teaching methods and classroom practice with their peers. I believe that being ‘a good teacher’ in the 21st century requires adopting an attitude of a willing learner. That, aligned with a real compassion and care for the social and educational needs of kids can lead to some truly great outcomes for young people.

The one thing I’ve noticed though, particularly through recent visits to schools in England is that it is so important for young people to have high aspirations. I was talking to some youngsters last week in schools about their hopes for the future. Even in certain schools with low socio-economic demographics, it was great to hear of students’ plans to become “an architect, a forensic scientist, an optometrist”, and yes, “a footballer!”






A Night on Bare Mountain


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, New Music, New Music Compositions | Posted on October 2, 2014

With the BBC’s Ten Pieces project about to kick off on Monday I’ve been motivated to come back to a piece I first shared with kids in my first teaching post in Glasgow in 1978. Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bare Mountain’ is deservedly part of the ‘Ten Pieces’ that kids will enjoy. Locally, we’ve got hundreds of kids from around 10 schools attending the Odeon in Dumfries for the BBC ‘Ten Pieces’ film. I hope Mussorgsky will forgive me for this digital arrangement of his music, I’ve certainly had fun putting it together!


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