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Skye two's thinking: learning to let go

Unlike some people, Gillian Hamilton does not believe her experience at the Columba 1400 leadership centre was life-changing, but she does claim the coaching skills she learnt changed her life focus and shaped her thinking.

She had been headteacher at Nether Robertland Primary, in Stewarton, for three years, when she attended the first pilot at the headteacher leadership academy in 2003. "I was really lucky because my depute also attended. The difficulty with Skye (home of the centre) is that you send one person from a school, then expect everyone else to change.

"Afterwards, the two of us were able to sit down regularly and we had what we called Skye meetings, setting challenges for the school and acting on them.

"Nether Robertland Primary is a good school in a good area with a great staff team and really good children, but things were just ticking over. I thought that I was really good at giving the children responsibility, but we were just paying lip service to that. I decided to see how we could empower our children more."

Initially she decided to change the school motto Nil sin labore (Nothing without work). "We decided that wasn't reflective of the school, because it was saying that you couldn't get anywhere if you didn't have your head down.

"Beforehand, I might have thought of a new motto and decided that would be it. But I gave everyone the opportunity and asked staff, the children and their parents to contribute before letting the children vote.

The motto they chose, You can do it if you put your mind to it, may be reminiscent of a certain DIY store, but it still graces a placard in the reception.

"It would have been really easy to encourage the children to vote for the motto I wanted," says Mrs Hamilton, "but I resisted the urge. The one chosen would not have been my choice but it was a fair vote and an exercise in letting the children do it."

Another significant development was deciding that pupils, rather than teachers, should escort visitors around the school.

"Soon after, Tony Buzan (of mind-mapping fame) came and toured with two children, which went down really well," she says.

Now, instead of prefects, the school has buddies. Pupils apply for the job and are interviewed by classroom assistants, instead of teachers choosing who they think is most appropriate. Pupils also have to apply for positions such as toothbrush monitor. "It's all about giving the children responsibility," says Mrs Hamilton.

Her relationship with staff has also changed. "I thought I was a good at delegating, but what I did was delegate tasks: I didn't delegate responsibility. I know that now and have learnt to let go."

She adds: "When I went to Skye, I thought that I would like a new challenge and that would be an issue that my coaching partner would coach me on. I resolved that I would seek some kind of secondment when I returned.

"It made me look at where I was going and what I was doing, and then the opportunity to develop leadership opportunities for staff across the authority came up.

"But it was not life-changing for me and I hate it when I read that in the press. It came at a good time in my life and helped me make some decisions that maybe I would not have made.

"Maybe it gave me the impetus that I needed and also helped shape my thinking. Practically, it has also given me a good network of contacts and I got to meet lots of different people."

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