Author Archives: Lena Carter

Wellbeing 15-16 #teacher5adaySlowChat #ScotEdChat


I have been following the teacher slow-chat wellbeing posts this week with great interest and decided to have a go at a 15-16 wellbeing post myself.

I am a driven person. I am not sure when I became  slightly addicted to pushing myself; I think that it hit somewhere around the age of 14 when I decided that I wanted to go to Cambridge. I think that I failed, as a teenager, to ever get a real sense of myself and threw myself into models of what I thought I ‘should be’. The underlying psychological issues are not for this post but safe to say that at 46, I’m still working on it….

Thereafter the joy of childhood seemed to slip away and I became very goal driven.

But of course hard work is a GOOD thing and workaholism is one of those addictions that is secretly ok because it is about ‘achieving’. As is an addiction to exercise….. You don’t get the same criticism for being addicted to work or exercise as you do for being addicted to booze or heroin….or self-harm.

I am not sure whether genetics added to my driven-ness. My maternal grandmother, widowed while pregnant, was a Lithuanian-German who lived a guilt-driven existence as a slave to the Protestant work ethic. I never really knew her.

My paternal grandmother, the polar opposite to ‘Oma’ in many ways, was also unable to sit still for long and lived on her nerves; a sociable, generous soul who would do anything to keep others happy. I miss her to this day.

My parents both committed their working lives to teaching in the state sector and worked accordingly. Dad was better at work-life balance than Mum. He was lucky enough to be part of the generation to retire in his early fifties. Mum similarly retired early but on ill health grounds, probably related to being a brilliant Mum and teacher but not so good on the self-preservation. Both parents engaged in marathon running and extreme gardening as ‘hobbies’ and so there was never much time for down-time in our house.

I had vowed never to be a teacher myself, having felt that the long holidays didn’t really make up for the other stresses and pressures of the job. I vividly remember my Dad avoiding shopping in our local town for fear of a pupil sarcastically shouting ‘Alright Sir!’ across the square.

But somehow the plans went awry. I didn’t become a GP. Or a lawyer. Or an actor. Or a drama therapist. Because ultimately I decided that I was born to teach. That may sound corny but it is the truth.

Doing a PGCE while I was waiting to be snapped up by the West End confirmed that. It also confirmed that drama teaching was the ultimate thing for me to do in order to assuage a thirst to change the world, one child at a time, through the power of theatre.

I am a good teacher. Years of affirmation from pupils, parents/carers and colleagues back this up. But I have to say that I never feel good enough. That is partly down to my psychology, I know….but it is also because it is a job where culture, society and the processes for measuring my profession constantly put me and my job down.

Several voices in the slow-chat (including @robfmac) have called for the development and promotion of teacher ‘agency’ and I would agree that this is a crucial part of helping improve the wellbeing of the profession. We need to have educational leaders at national and local levels who understand teaching, understand education staff and protect and nurture them, rather than subjecting them to unrealistic performance measures.


@LCLL-Director asked, on day 1 of the slow-chat whether perfectionists become teachers or teachers become perfectionists? I stated that I felt that there is an interesting piece of research to be done here.

But whichever way round it is, teaching and perfectionism can never be a good combination within the current climate. It is a climate where, in Scotland, we are told that we can do our job in 35 hours a week when we simply CAN’T. The non-contact time we get is so frequently taken to allow other absent staff to be covered that it is almost not worth having. Hence a system where we are set up to struggle and fail before we even start. It is a climate where electronic management systems that were meant to reduce teacher workload are so unwieldy and user unfriendly that they cause excessive stress and add to workload. And it is a culture where a politician visited England to learn about ‘closing the gap’, was told there were no clear conclusions to be drawn from the approach adopted South of the border but then decided to impose it on Scotland anyway. (For more on that, ask @realdcameron)

If I cleaned toilets, I would have a specific number of toilets to clean and set working hours in which to do it. I might go home and worry about the standard of my cleaning but it is unlikely that I would be able to go back into my place of work out of hours…. Or be made to feel guilty for not doing so. Equally, I do not believe that there is a technical solution whereby toilet cleaners can clean toilets from home. Whereas, thanks to IT, teachers now have little excuse not to ‘catch’ up on admin, marking, report writing outside of the contracted 35 hours.

So, this new year I make 3 vows.

1. To myself. It is time I sorted this out once and for all. I love the Facebook ‘memories’ function where you can see where you were and what you were doing on this day in previous years. But I am concerned that I have been saying the same things about needing to slow down and look after better myself for 10 years. Now is the time. My family needs more of me and I need to accept that excuses won’t do any more. Only I can do this but but I am hoping for a bit of help from @Doctob’s book ‘Inner Story’ which fortuitously came into my possession recently….

2. To education. I am doing the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course this year and intend to learn all I can about how to be a Wellbeing-motivated educational leader.

3. To Twitter. I will use this forum to engage in the debate about wellbeing and teacher ‘agency’ and to support and nurture like-minded souls. I will not beat myself up if I don’t manage to tweet or blog as often as other brilliant twitterati friends…..(as I have in the past) but I will use Twitter for all its potential….

So, Happy New Year. Let’s make it so.

Relationship matters….Relationships matter

I think that, strictly speaking, Pedagoo is  meant to be about sharing classroom practice and I therefore have to start with a confession; I am currently not classroom based. Those who know me well will know that I have mixed feelings about this. While I am loving my secondment to the local authority central team, I am missing the contact with pupils. But that for another post…

Last week I had the tremendous good fortune to attend three fantastic events within two days. On the surface, the events appeared to relate to three quite different themes. The first was our launch of our Authority Self-Harm and Suicide guidance. The second was a learning session for support assistants on behaviour, delivered by two representatives from Education Scotland. And the third was a day of Leadership training for Argyll and Bute Headteachers. Having had time to digest and reflect on the sessions, it has struck me that there were two key messages common to all three.

The first is about the absolute crucial importance of relationships in education. Ged Flynn from Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity talked about the need for us to make ourselves available to anyone who is struggling to cope. By really listening to the person’s story and helping him/her to find strategies to manage the difficult parts of life, we can literally save a life. Giving the person the time and space to connect with another can make all the difference. Sam March from Education Scotland talked about the vital concept of nurture in helping a young person who is struggling to achieve. He spoke of the ‘turnaround adult’ who can provide a consistent, reliable and predictable relationship in a child’s life. Nurture is about more than being kind to a child; it is about having high aspirations and a willingness and skill to challenge the negative self-image or internal working model that has developed in that child. And Andrew Cubie, on leadership, stressed the crucial importance of getting to know and understand those you are working with and leading. He explained that we need to invest time in getting to understand others, in understanding their DNA and ‘clicking’ with them. He said that the chemistry of a relationship is crucial and that if you are faced with someone whom you initially find difficult, you have to work at understanding them better if you are to succeed together. He advised taking time to “talk out the issues, strategic and other” and to make the difficult relationships better.

This idea of the need to work at our relationships resonated with me. If I have had success as an educationalist, it seems to me that it is often because I have taken time to work at the ‘difficult’ relationships, whether that be with pupils, parents or colleagues. Often another person may present as ‘difficult’ because they represent a different viewpoint and experience to our own; we need to dig deep and look at what that experience is. Thus the ‘difficult’ child who cannot behave may be communicating distress or needing a different type of attention to the others in the class. The ‘difficult’ parent who rages down a phone about the faults of the school may be struggling to cope with a child at home and need the chance to express and work on this. And the ‘difficult’ colleague who resists implementing change for the better because ‘the old ways are the best’ may be feeling hugely insecure about her own capacity to change and need the support of a colleague to take things forward.

I have to confess that Andrew’s talk made me realise that I have probably been more tolerant of ‘difficult’ pupil and parent characters in the past and quicker to criticise colleagues where I have felt them to be putting up barriers. My note to self is to invest more time in developing these relationships and listening more intently to these colleagues in future.

And so to the second key thread touched on by all the speakers I heard last week. This related to the idea that, in order to function successfully as leaders of others, or indeed of our own lives, we need tools and structures that assist us with self-regulation. This might seem obvious; if you do not feel in control of yourself and you aren’t the leader in your own life, then you risk that things won’t go the way you would have wanted. But it struck me that all three speakers mentioned the conscious need to put structures in place around this and not to take them for granted.

Ged Flynn spoke of the need to create plans with young people in distress so that they have strategies that they can draw on to keep them safe. Sam March talked about the need for restorative, solution focused work that clearly identifies interventions that will enable children to move forward. And, perhaps most interestingly for me, Andrew Cubie spoke about his belief in personal development planning. He said that he writes a personal development plan in relation to each project upon which he embarks and it is against this that he judges his personal success within the project. I was surprised to hear that someone with Andrew’s vast experience would feel a need to do this but it also re-iterated to me the importance of attending to our personal self-management. This is not the stuff of therapy or a reactive approach to crisis but the pro-active stuff of life and education.

All three speakers also talked of the need for us to take care of ourselves if we are to provide support and positive role modelling to the children and young people with whom we work. Creating regular opportunities to think about our priorities and values is part of this. So what has stayed with me above all after attending these events? That relationships matter and should be at the heart of education, not seen as secondary to learning but as fundamental to learning. Building positive relationships with others but also building a positive relationship with our own self are crucial to our professional and personal success.

It is not that I didn’t ‘know’ or believe this before;  as a former Dramatherapist I have read the books on Emotional Intelligence, Why Love Matters and the rest. But hearing these three inspiring speakers has reminded and re-enforced the message, giving me the confidence to put it back at the heart of what I do and what I invite others to do.

Ged Flynn is Chief Executive of Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity. Sir Andrew Cubie is an independent Consultant. He was variously Chairman and Senior Partner of a number of law firms, including Fyfe Ireland LLP, having specialised in Corporate law. He holds a number of non-executive Directorships. He has been engaged in education issues throughout his professional career. Sam March is a Development Officer at Education Scotland.

Thank you #rEDScot

It’s a bit like standing above a pool of cold, deep water and daring to jump in, isn’t it? My first Pedagoo post…..Can I do it? Think how good I’ll feel if I do…..No, I’m too scared……I’ll let him just go first…..Oh no wait, now he’s beaten me too it….I’m useless……Oh maybe not….deep breath….Splash!!

Back in the spring of last year I got caught up in a Twitter debate about the need for teachers to engage in research. Whilst I could absolutely see the point of what was being said, I asked how on earth teachers were supposed to fit in research along with the hundreds of other tasks that fill their days (and nights). Wasn’t creating an expectation that they should do research just another way of making them feel inadequate when they couldn’t find the time?

And then came my discovery of the debunking of Brain Gym and Learning Styles. “What?” I cried, feeling entirely defensive and embarrassed at having launched a ‘Learn to Learn’ programme in several schools which has both within its content…..”But I DID research around those! I read shiny, published books by Alistair Smith and others and they’d done LOADS of research in writing those books….” I felt let down (as well as stupid) and thought indignantly that if, as teachers, we don’t have time personally to do the research, we should surely be able to trust the ‘big names and the shiny books’.

And in such a frame of mind, my eye fell upon a tweet from Mark Healy about researchED Scotland. Late to the Twitter party and not at all knowledgeable about researchED, I decided to go along and see whether it would be able to help me with my malaise about the relationship between educational research and practice.

What was I expecting? Maybe something above my head and overly intellectual. I suspected, having driven for 2 hours to get there, that I might duck out at lunchtime and get back to my family. It was Saturday, after all.

What did I find? Passion, connection, challenge and stimulation and some answers to my questions, plus a few more questions to ponder…Do I have any part to play in the research debate as someone who fell for Brain Gym? Yes, as Tom Bennett said, everyone within the education eco-system has a right to talk to everyone else in that system.

Is the research always 100% to be trusted? No. As George Gilchrist said, sometimes we stop, take stock and have to ask “what have we been doing for the last five years?” before moving on and trying something different. What worked 2, 5 or 10 years ago may not work any more.

If the research provides compelling evidence that we should teach in a particular way, should we ignore it? No, said Anne Glennie. Not in terms of teaching reading and when we are risking the future wellbeing and life-chances of our children.

Is IQ testing outmoded as a useful benchmark? No; Andrew Sabisky has a LOT of data and evidence that proves otherwise. Can it assess all types of intelligence? No… but then the definition of intelligence is the stuff of another huge debate…

Can we half-do Mindset interventions? Mark Healy and Marc Smith would argue not. Everyone in the institution needs to understand the theory and walk and talk the values. But this can be problematic when the system we are working in is based on different values. Character education must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily. Gary Walsh explained that the jury is out and that we need to continue to seek hard evidence of its benefits.

And where exactly is the love? Well, my love has found a new recipient. His name is David Cameron and my tweet, after attending his session was “Your talk today was the most inspirational 40 minutes of my educational life. You are my new hero and I actually love you.”

The key messages of his talk? Don’t be blinded by research that isn’t. Don’t allow politics to rule education. Use relevant, pertinent data to inform developments. And “it is better to try in the face of incorrectness than to give up on children’s lives.”

I stayed until the bitter end and was sorry not to be able to join the others in the pub after the final panel session. I left with my faith in research, passion and debate restored. I know to be a little more cautious of the big names and shiny books in future….but also that passion and meaningful research can combine to create the best possible outcomes for our learners. Thank you so much to all those who made it happen and brought researchED to Scotland.