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Headspace - The challenges of delivering professional learning for headteachers at a distance

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Keeping connected

If you are anything like me, then one of the things that you'll have missed most since lockdown is the opportunity to meet up face-to-face with family, friends and work colleagues. Perhaps we are all missing the company of friends and work colleagues who can challenge us and make us think in different ways, over a coffee in the staff workroom or during a staff meeting or a professional learning session? Given that we are still facing the challenges of physical distancing, then you may be grappling with the challenges of working collaboratively. You will no doubt be facing the challenges of working in staff teams, whilst staying safe and not putting your pupils, peers or families at risk.

The challenges of keeping in touch with headteachers

In March 2020 I was standing at the train platform waiting for my train to Glasgow Central when I received the news that I was not to come into the office. I returned home to face the news that all of the Excellence in Headship sessions our professional learning team had planned were to be postponed for the foreseeable future.

In the weeks to come, I was upset to hear the news that I couldn’t visit my elderly mum or have our extended family over to visit, due to my husband having to shield from everyone due to a heart condition. Suddenly I was working with two noisy teenagers in the house who were both worried about the closure of their school and potential decisions about exam results. Sadly my father-in-law passed away during lockdown, so we had the devastating experience of not being able to see or visit him in the three month period before he died. Amidst all of this I knew that the focus of my job with school leaders was the safe delivery of programmes online and ensuring that we as a team were doing all we could to support the collaboration and connection of school leaders, as a community, throughout lockdown.

Unfortunately I was a mere novice when it came to Vscene and Zoom. I also have to admit that every day became a learning day when it came to Glow Teams. My husband called me a technophobe and my children laughed whilst I started to grasp this new way of working. Remembering to mute your mike and turn off your camera and read the chat pane at the same time may seem to be a very simple task for those of you who are 'digital natives', but for me it has been a major achievement!

A new approach to delivering professional learning on a virtual basis to headteachers had started and I was beginning a new journey…

Professional learning space for headteachers online

Our challenge as a professional learning team was to find a way to collaborate, co-create and support professional learning that best suited teaching professionals. After some internal piloting via Vscene, Skype and MS teams, our team found MS Teams via GLOW and Google Meet to be the most effective platforms to address the needs of the majority headteachers across Scotland. Given that MS Teams through GLOW is a national platform for Scottish schools, and it provided the opportunity to create shared sites with break-out rooms, then it certainly provided us with a very effective way of connecting with a large number of headteachers.

The PLL team in Education Scotland responded to the challenges of supporting Scottish educators by connecting with school staff, including headteachers, through our Big Blethers, Wee Blethers, Headspace programme and through delivering aspects of the Excellence in Headship programme online. We have also extended our series of online 'blethers' through the introduction of a new series of International Blethers. To launch this new series Peter DeWitt, who works as a leadership coach in North America, will join us for an online conversation about developing pedagogical approaches.

Headspace feedback

Feedback from Headspace events has been very positive and our evaluation shows that we have some helpful actions to take forward for future sessions. Examples of comments are:

  • 'An opportunity to engage in discussion with colleagues across the whole of Scotland.'
  • 'Listening to what others are doing - positively reaffirming decisions you make as a headteacher.'
  • 'The opportunity to hear from colleagues about what is working well and the chance to share.'
  • 'Getting a national perspective.'
  • 'Opportunity to collaborate with others - share ideas and perspectives.'
  • 'The start of a national conversation - exciting.'
  • 'National voices and so many different points of views and new ideas to think about.'

How can headteachers get involved in a Headspace event? 

Our PLL team is very fortunate to engage with headteachers across Scotland and we are constantly enthused and energised by our schools during these very challenging times. Our committed leaders have been leading our schools admirably during this unprecedented period.

Having engaged with hundreds of headteachers over the last few months we can see that there is a real appetite for headteachers to collaborate and support one another and with Covid-19, schools are facing one of the biggest worldwide challenges. Without the opportunity to engage regularly face to face, we want to provide schools with the resources and space online to connect.

The PLL team is continuing to offer a range of virtual events hosted mainly on Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. Headteachers can find a range of professional learning opportunities via Education Scotland’s website on the PLL events page.

In these challenging times, we hope that you will remember to prioritise time for your own wellbeing and 'take time for you' by getting involved in the variety of opportunities available to connect with like-minded headteachers.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on themes of importance and ways in which we can collaborate further with you and support one another, then please let us know. The Professional Learning and Leadership team in Education Scotland would love to hear from you.

Kindest thoughts are with you. Stay safe and stay well.