Follow, and forget the bungee rope

18th June 2004 at 01:00
My son will be following in the path of so many of our forebears this summer when he goes to Canada. The difference is that he will be coming back (I hope) in September since he still has part of his economics degree to finish.

As luck would have it, he met a Canadian stockbroker on Tarbert golf course recently and they engaged in conversation about the world of finance. The stockbroker, at the tender age of 38, was already retired (growl not, my friends) but did not recommend that my son go into stockbroking.

"No, don't go there. The way to go is to think of an idea, get the finance and become an entrepreneur. I'm the poorest of my friends. They all went into business and all have their own companies."

"Ah," replied my son. "I neither have an idea nor the finance, so I'm not ready to go there yet."

Principal teachers of enterprise had not been thought of when my son was at school.

Yet, this exchange on the golf course reminded me of the chair of Highland and Islands Enterprise Jim Hunter's words at our prize-giving ceremony in April, when he talked about the Highland clearances and - the suffering of the leaving apart - of how so many people had found opportunities both in the United States and Canada which they would never have had at home. The energy, vision and drive which the Scots brought to Canada cannot be disputed. The irony is that in Scotland we are striving to revive it.

I doubt that the stockbroker would be retired at 38, or his friends be owners of their own companies, had they been brought up in Scotland.

I fear we have a long road ahead of us in building a smart, successful Scotland. However, it is my job as a headteacher to design our education provision around these needs and, especially at this time of year when we are planning for the coming session, to focus on what we can do to nurture the necessary skills and dispositions in our young people.

At Oban High, we try to keep children at the centre and believe that the professional development of our teachers is an absolute essential in providing the best quality of provision for our pupils. Our staff have experienced some of the best presenters in the land but of all of the courses the Network Educational Press's Critical Skills Programme is the winner by a long chalk.

I first came across this when I read Leading the Learning School by Colin Weatherly (former headteacher and leader of the Lothian Quality Learning Programme). Mr Weatherly 's words in the first chapter echoed my own experiences in attempting to achieve change in classroom practice through in-service courses.

He talks about the "bungee rope syndrome" whereby enthusiastic responses to courses produce an initial change in practice, only to be followed by regression to status quo as the everyday pressures of the classroom kick in. The nature of critical skills training mitigates this through its design and intensity.

The critical skills are problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, organisation, management and leadership.

Also developed in the programme are the "fundamental dispositions". These are lifelong learning, self-direction, internal model of quality, integrity and ethical character, curiosity and wonder, collaboration and community membership.

Aren't these the very skills and dispositions that are purportedly lacking in the Scottish workforce?

The training for level 1 involves six days of intensely active workshops.

During these teachers learn how to create a collaborative classroom community and design complex open-ended problem-solving challenges for pupils that form the basis of the classroom learning model. The training employs its own theory and teachers experience the activities as pupils.

We have now put about 30 of our staff through the critical skills programme, some to level 2, without a single negative reaction. Typical of my staff's evaluations are these comments: "worthwhile and enjoyable; feel I've achieved something and can get going", "well structured and applicable to teaching" and "have thoroughly enjoyed the three days but it has been challenging and demanding. It has given me time to reflect on what I do as a teacher and how I can do it better. I would really like to complete the training."

With our national priorities firmly on the agenda for the next session, the use of critical skills in our school will help us to move forward.

Creativity, assessment for learning, enterprise, citizenship, inclusion: they are all there.

Meanwhile, the end of term looms. Have a well-deserved and enjoyable summer break.

Linda Kirkwood is head of Oban HighIf you have any comments, e-mail'Leading the Learning School' by Colin Weatherly (NEP, pound;15.95)

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