24th July 2009 at 01:00

Jim McDonald, depute head of Harris Academy in Dundee, who died last month, joined as principal teacher of history in 1998, having previously held the same post at Elgin High.

Jim was born and bred in Speyside and began his teaching career in Turriff Academy in 1976 before being promoted to Elgin High in 1981.

He quickly established himself in Harris and, within three years, had taken the history department from mid-table obscurity into the upper reaches of NCD1 (national comparison decile 1) at Standard grade, Higher and, especially in his own area of expertise, Advanced Higher.

His knowledge of history, and particularly 20th-century European history, put him in the top bracket of historians, not just history teachers. His understanding of the principles of effective teaching and learning was detailed and comprehensive, but his greatest gift was his ability to engage with, and gain the trust of, other people. His ability to get the best from colleagues and pupils made him an impressive classroom performer and a highly-skilled leader of people.

Jim had deeply-held socialist principles and his belief in equality, fairness and justice was at the core of his professional practice and personal life. He epitomised unconditional positive regard in his dealings with adults and with children. He would fight for what he believed to be in the best interests of his pupils and was no real respecter of position when he felt that injustice, failure to understand or lack of empathy was coming between pupils and their entitlement. He applied the same principles when acting as the Educational Institute of Scotland representative for his colleagues.

He was, from the beginning in Harris, a social animal - cycling, football, golf, staff outings. Jim was a gregarious, affable and highly popular member of staff. His ability to remain a loyal supporter of Glasgow Rangers, given the constant abuse of the Harris staffroom, speaks volumes of his character.

Jim's obvious intellect and his superb people skills gained him the respect of the school community, and it was little surprise, in January 2005, when he was promoted to the position of depute in the school. He made the move from being one of the boys into senior management effortlessly, displaying the ability to take decisions and give a lead while still retaining integrity, professional respect and personal popularity. Talent and humanity made him a powerful leader of people.

Jim was diagnosed with throat cancer in April 2008 and, having undergone treatment, was given the all clear in February 2009. In late April, however, he learned that a highly aggressive form of the disease had returned and he was admitted to Roxburghe House hospice in Dundee. He passed away quietly at home.

James Thewliss, headteacher, Harris Academy.

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