An Island Teacher

This is the post excerpt.


I was inspired and encouraged by Sandra our Argyll and Bute Middle Leadership Network guru to enter the world of Twitter to engage and connect with other educators. This led me to the rich world of educational bloggers. In order to reflect upon, develop and share my learning experiences I have decided to have a go… All views are my own.


Making a Difference…

This year I have made a difference. I may not be perfect but I did what I could.

What have you done this year to make a difference?

As it comes to the end of the school year it is good to reflect on the positive and the not so positive experiences to identify changes and allow for further professional and personal growth.

“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”  (American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey)

Reflection is a powerful mechanism behind learning according to the study;Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance”  (Stefano, Pisano & Staats, Harvard University 2014)

The results suggest that:

  • Learning from direct experience can be more effective if reflected upon along with the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.

Teaching can become an all-consuming passion as we strive to make a difference and my reflections from my own personal and professional Principal Teaching position, in a small rural school on The Isle of Mull, 2016-17 academic year reveal and evidence how and why…

I am greeting the last week of this term with additional excitement as I will be travelling down to London, to the palace of Westminster, for a presentation event and a tour of the Houses of Parliament with a P7 pupil and her parent. My pupil’s dedication and talent for learning has won her the SGN Scottish regional prize for raising awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. She now could win the GDNs National Prize. Winning the regional prize had an emotional impact on her which she exhibited through both tears and laughter with combined shock and self-pride.

SGN Regional Winner

This trip will not only have an impact on her, her family’s experiences and future memories but also that of others with her creative, powerful poem and rap performance message that could save lives. Research suggests that having positive experiences can shape and build how we view ourselves and the stories that we have, to share, can shape who we become.  The money she has also won will benefit her personally as well as the school’s community nature trail. She would like to provide for fellow pupils to be involved in a workshop to build a wishing well that can be placed along our nature trail. This opportunity allows for a further learning experience, a feature for the nature trail, whilst additionally benefitting the school by encouraging donations. The differences that have been made in this one learning experience alone are immeasurable.

sydIt will also be quite a poignant time for me as my own formative years involved the influence and inspiration of my grandad Sydney Bidwell ,who was the Southall MP for 26 years. I still have the special memories of visiting the House of Commons with him, on numerous occasions, ingrained within my being. I was also Christened there. He will be in my thoughts and I will be reflecting further on where my life’s stories have led me, shaping my thinking and my life. baby

“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.” — Rukeyser (1968)

Research: “Selves Creating Stories Creating Selves: A Process Model of Self-Development.” (McLean et al, 2007)) suggests a developmental model that shapes who we become which is based on the stories that we have, to tell. I was blessed with a happy, healthy carefree childhood full of nurturing, inspiring and positive memories. I hope that our P7 pupil will take forward positive memories from hers to support her health and well-being.


Wow! What a journey this has been; from actively researching in my summer holidays last year, in the new term with pupils, visiting, seeking support, guidance, constructing, designing leaflets, maps and information boards our efforts have culminated in the development of a nature trail through our local area which will further enhance our learning opportunities. With only five pupils on our rural island school role for next year the establishment of creating meaningful, interactive experiences for our pupils is paramount. Motivation, the learner’s internal drive to understand and to promote the learning process is important, as identified in numerous educational research articles based on Vygotsky’s theories of social constructivism (Vygotsky, Lev (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.) They support the fact that knowledge is actively constructed by the learner and it can only grow under the guidance of or in collaboration with others. The nature trail will provide us with a platform to invite other learning communities to join us for outdoor STEM learning sessions. It is also an experience for locals and tourists alike to stop for a while and appreciate the wildlife and natural beauty of our local area. We have won the regional Prize in The Better Energy School Awards and we have received large funding from ACHA and generous donations from the community to now take it forward. It looks set to be a huge success for many reasons. I am looking forward to experiencing the difference it will also make to next year.

#Shed2lab… This year a Lochdonhead alumnus who is now a professor of maths and science at Queens University came to teach the pupils about the properties of magnets and to visit our shed, officially changing it to a laboratory. The pupils designed, painted and created the lab themselves, with community support with experimentsbenching, shelves, hooks and camouflaging fishing net! The difference to our shed.jpgconservation garden is that we now have a stimulating base to conduct our science experiments furthermore to continue to embed our learning for sustainability. It was an emotional time for our visitor Professor Robert Bowman as his mum had just sadly died, and been buried locally, a few days before his visit to the school. It was, I believe, a life affirming visit for him and us. WP_20170523_015 - Copy (2).jpgThe difference he made sharing his skills, experience and knowledge is immeasurable and I am extremely grateful he and his partner Sharon O’Connor came further more the generous science equipment that they also donated that will leave a further lasting impact.

Our pupils were also involved in a young leaders Scottish engineering award project where they had to research Scottish inventors, inventions and then exhibit their designer thinking skills, to create their own invention. This involved enlisting the support of a local professional engineer to guide them through the process. Pupil’s invented a hot and cold onesie, a speed limit alarm, a drone shed designer, an essential travel pack, a book holder for when in the bath, a welly boot washer and a dog paw washer. Three pupils received certificates with distinction and four with merit. The most powerful result was the thinking skills involved that were evident throughout the process, recorded in our learning rubrics based on Blooms Taxonomy (2000).

In A Curriculum for Excellence building the curriculum 4; skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work (The Scottish Government, Edinburgh, 2009) emphasises the need for thinking skills across learning. It asserts “Skills in thinking relate closely to skills in literacy and numeracy. Thinking allows learners to explore text and information of all kinds critically and to use them purposefully.”

“In Improving Scottish Education 2005-2008, HMIE states: “Curriculum for Excellence sets high expectations of rigour. This means that teachers should plan consistently for appropriate pace, challenge, depth and progression, and consciously promote the development of high order thinking skills.” It is important that all learners are given appropriate opportunities to develop their thinking skills. These skills can be developed across a range of contexts including through more practical or applied learning opportunities.” (www.gov.scot/Publications/2009)

In addition, we also entered the Glengorm Art Competition where pupils were to paint a Mull wildlife animal. Instead of teaching them an artistic strategy, for them to follow, the learning was facilitated by encouraging the pupils to research a medium on the internet and use this to develop their pictures. It put them in charge of the learning process. The skills of remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, winning cowevaluating and creating appeared through charcoal, pencil, printing, watercolours and acrylic pictures ready for exhibition. They were rewarded for their efforts with a first and second place and one pupil was announced the overall winner which will result in her visiting Glengorm to go on a foraging adventure. The pupils work will be displayed in the Glengorm nature trail laboratory over the summer. Self-esteem in pupils and their belief in stagthemselves as learners has been raised. The observed confidence and development of critical curiosity has resulted in pupils who are eager to have fun with their learning and to enjoy being the best they can be.

This week we are going to have a very proud Celebration of Achievement celebrating the positive differences that have been made. It will also coincide with the official opening of The Lochdon Swan Nature Trail.

We have achieved a silver sports award, helped by one pupil running a pool club. Another pupil won two gold medals on sports day.

Core literacy and numeracy lessons have been intertwined throughout the year with our interdisciplinary learning and other necessary discrete areas of the curriculum.


Reading has been a key focus through our Accelerated Reading scheme, The First Ministers reading challenge, using a reciprocal reading and paired reading approach in a class book study and our home learning. C6fd1DvWcAATFt-.jpgWe were runners up in the world book day competition with our Narnia book corner. One pupil has read nearly 2 million words – which is twice the amount the whole class read last year. Numeracy learning has been approached through number talks, mental maths, active maths and creative maths inspired by Jo Boaler and Sumdog. Using a range of informative assessments and end of term formal assessments has provided further evidence that a difference has been made to the numeracy and literacy attainment – I am proud to say it has been raised in all pupils.

A “Home Learning Club” was also introduced this year, inspired by Bearsden Academy, who shared their learning at a collaborative Argyll and Bute leadership day (on a Saturday) aimed at developing the quality and quantity of pupil’s home learning. Part of our improvement plan was to involve parents and partners and the club’s development became my PT action plan: The club witnessed 100% attendance, improved home learning and members of the community visiting to support the pupils. Parents feedback also indicated its positive support. An extremely satisfying difference.

We also began the school blog. https://lochdonprimaryschool.wordpress.com It has made a vast difference in the way that we record and share learning, attainment and achievements furthermore it has enhanced the communication with parents. I have continued to share and learn about best practice on twitter , following the blogs of Adam Hill and Lenabellina and have received likes, comments and re-tweets from encouraging fellow practitioners and our acting Head russell.jpgof Education, as well as the MSP Michael Russell – who opened our science laboratory the day after his Brexit role was announced with him becoming “The Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe.” His dedication and passion to honour his commitment to the children’s invite was admirable and so much appreciated.

Teamwork, co-operation and a sense of belonging have developed further in our school, the parents and wider community this past year through the various learning experiences and opportunities. The support given to one another under our positive, caring and respectful ethos has truly made a difference to our achievements and we could not have achieved all that we have without those vital ingredients. Right alongside our encouraging Head Teacher and teaching team is our Clerical and Classroom assistant who holds everything together, our school cook who nourishes and entertains us, the school janitor who cleans to an amazingly high standard so that our school is always clean, healthy and well cared for. She even tidies the pens and washes our cups up if we have been too busy to tidy them away! I thank them all for the differences that they have made…

I have also been fortunate enough to work with a variety of inspiring professionals throughout Argyll and Bute on the Literacy forum. We have created the first draft of our local authorities literacy strategy which will make a difference by informing practitioners across the area. We also delivered literacy workshops across our authority and I met the professional hurdle of leading an event and delivering a practical intervention session. It has made a positive difference to the self-belief in my abilities to relate to fellow practitioners on the island and determination to rise to challenges. The belief that I can and am making a difference to learners.

According to research by Hattie (2003), “Teachers Make a Difference, what is the research evidence?” (University of Auckland) teachers account for about 30% of the variance in a child’s potential learning. He suggests that it is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation. Therefore, it is essential that I continue to reflect and learn from all experiences to support the best educational experiences I can for my pupils.

It is perhaps unfortunate then that the biggest obstacle this year has been managing time and allowing for continued professional development. This was particularly notable on two occasions. Once over the last month of the Christmas term when Christmas shows, parties, events in school needs additional planning and then put into practice (we wrote our own Christmas play – Santa Strikes Back). C0ZiFcVWQAArTCPOn a personal level juggling work, family and home commitments when school finishes so close to Christmas provided a further challenge. It was also my sons 18th birthday the day before the end of term. Phew! I made it to the festivities in one piece – just!

The next obstacles arrived after Easter. The teacher that covers my McCrone and Management time was signed off with a broken foot. Working to maintain the high standard of Education delivered to the children was further challenged with the lack of supply staff. The rising work load and lack of non-contact time did unfortunately, I believe, impact into my personal life and I found it difficult to maintain the work life balance in the most tiring of terms and I had to dig deep to rediscover and keep my resilience at work and have a huge amount to thank my supportive family, friends and colleagues for.

Therein lies my professional and personal goal for next year to organise my time and work commitments in a healthier, kinder to self, more considered way thus continuing to be able to make a difference. I am going to first wind down and relax before gently listening, counselling and coaching myself over the summer holidays to put the necessary steps, that I need to make in practice, on paper to ensure that I achieve my goal. My continued good health, positivity, enthusiasm and happiness to make a difference relies on it.

Seeking happiness? Remember the good times, forget the regrets. (2nd May 2011, San Francisco State University)

…Suggests the study. It states that people who look at the past through rose-tinted glasses are happier than those who focus on negative past experiences and regrets. The study helps explain why personality has such a strong influence on a person’s happiness.fail The findings suggest that persons with certain personality traits are happier than others because of the way they think about their past, present and future. Whilst I do agree with this I think that it is also important to stop and evaluate the negative so that we can make the change that is needed to transfer that perspective into a positive one whilst also being sure to identify the successes.


Throughout my professional and personal reflections of the year I recognise that I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to the pupils I have learned with. Their enthusiasm to “Learn Like Pirates” (Paul Solarz (2015) Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated) was inspirational and motivating, their ideas were infectious and pirate book.jpgevery day they would lift my world and allow me to experience life through their eyes. On even the most difficult of days it is hard to be anything but ‘up’ around children. None of our achievements would have been possible without their determination to succeed and be their best. The support of the parents has also been heartening. Their unwavering belief in the school and the education that it is providing for their children and the practical on hand help has been rewarding for all.

So has does my personality and attitude to learning and education make a difference? Personally, at home, I have experienced a challenging year untangling myself from the fallout of a past relationship, and negotiating with solicitors. I have had to model and be the embodiment of the very lifelong personal (ELLI) learning skills that I strive to teach my learners. elliUnsettlingly my home had to go on the market. I have overseen more than 8 viewings and am still without a buyer. The successes experienced in my family life have been that my eldest son passed his HNC in Bag Piping at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow and has recently left home to pursue a life in the military police. My daughter confidently sat her Nat 5 exams and has played the tenor drum at various locations around Scotland with the Army cadet pipes and drums. My ten-year-old son has kept his smile and maintained his calm composure, whilst earning a glowing school report. My parents who live locally have kept good health and stayed a gentle ever caring presence

I myself was also lucky enough to meet a wonderful, kind and generous hearted man who has supported me and been there for me throughout the last years personal and professional learning experiences. He has supported my ideas with enthusiasm and a steadfast belief in me. He made a big difference by applying his practical skills to tasks that I could not have completed alone. hero
He accepted (as best he could) the long hours, tiredness and irrational moments whilst we shared much needed, special time and escapism outings together. He listened and talked with me at length, was always there for me and helped me problem solve. He held my hand and hugged me when I needed it. He was my hero, my rock and my port in a storm; who has helped to create new happy memories that will shape my future stories and my future universe. I could not have made the differences without him. For all of that I am extremely grateful to him.

The exhaustion, the challenges of being the partner to someone who works hard to make a difference to others and the toll that can take became too much for him to handle… He has walked away…

He made an enormous difference to my life with his ever calm, patient and cheerful presence. I am only left with the hope that I have in some way made a positive difference in his life too and with the hope that next year will bring even more happy, inspiring and positive differences, both professionally and personally. I really, seriously hope it does.

So “Happy Summer holidays” fellow practitioners and difference makers.

Enjoy your well-deserved rest…

What have you done this year to make a difference?


The Smells of Earth are so Strong…

Empty Classroom Day… A day to celebrate and inspire learning and play outside the classroom. But what did we achieve? Tim Peakes returned from space declaring that the smells of earth are so strong and how amazing it was to be back on Earth. After reflecting on a whole day of outdoor learning, and taking the time to focus on our local environment, I couldn’t agree more…

Empty Classroom Day… A day to celebrate and inspire learning and play outside the classroom. So What did we Achieve?

  1. Success in exploration

We headed outside to breathe in and smell the fresh, moist Mull air. It wasn’t long before we found a two headed newt whilst pond dipping in our conservation garden.

“We will be rich. We will be famous. We have discovered a new breed of newt. Our very own Lochdonhead monster!” But unfortunately (or should that be fortunately?) not… What we had in fact discovered was two baby newts intertwined. Less intriguing perhaps? Not to these children: ‘We are sustaining life in our very own pond. Our pond is working!”I must remember to think before I jump to conclusions!’


2. Success in Partnership Working…

We have worked co-operatively  with parents and our community partners to provide outdoor learning areas to stimulate our senses and our scientific enquiry skills and we are lucky now be able to enjoy the benefits of these. The environment is ideal for fostering learning for sustainability.  The children were torn in two as they wanted to put the newt babies under the microscope in our, recently constructed, wooden science laboratory. However they recognised, rather reluctantly, that they ought to be returned to their natural, watery habitat as soon as possible.

3. Success with Scientific Enquiry…

We found an adult newt close to the edge of the pond, near the strong smelling wild garlic. Was it Naomi, or was it Norman? A quick search on an I-pad app suggested it was a palmate newt and more likely to be a Norman but we couldn’t be sure. Its tail seemed longer than its body and its toes appeared very long with dark webbed feet at the back – indications that it was indeed a male but more investigative research would be needed. It still didn’t stop the endless questions and discussions however with the suggestion that they could write stories about Norman and a two headed baby, for visitors to their conservation garden to read about, and perhaps they could become famous authors – high expectations but why not? Questions were created with plans made to seek out their answers over the weekend.

4. Success with Leading the Learning…

The pupils planned and organised their own day. Save the Children had declared June 17th as Den Building Day to raise awareness of the plight of children in countries who were living in temporary shelters. As part of their planning the pupils took this into consideration to improve their understanding of the difficulties and challenges of building structures with resources from their natural environment.  As well as to be simply having fun with their learning! The smell of moist moss, fresh flowers and the summer breeze through the hot hazel wood drifted up our noses…

5. Success with Creativity, Collaboration and Problem Solving…

The first challenge was to negotiate the school gatewayWP_20160617_002 carrying the varied lengths of sweet smelling willow they’d just pruned from our dome.

After they’d collected the lost pieces they continued to the forest measuring with a trundle wheel so thatWP_20160617_005 we could map a new track for our mile a day. Multi-tasking and number fluency and retention practice en route!

One team scored near perfect points for their den construction. What let them down? “Well, they decided that if two of them hadn’t argued and sulked after one had been poked in the eye with a stick by the other they would have improved their teamwork skills but they appeared to have learned from their mistake by saying that next time “they would take more care and be nice to each other.” An important life long skill!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin.


6. Success with Curriculum Coverage…

Predominantly: Literacy – talking and listening, reading. Maths – the language and practical application of measure and shape, problem solving. Expressive arts – Painting Technology – IT and construction. Social Studies – geography.  Science – Biology.

Personalisation and Choice in Reading
Painting our model of Skara Bay, Orkney from our book study ‘The Boy with the Bronze Axe’







7. We achieved more than we may know and more than I can put into words in this one blog. We stopped to pause and reflect on the beauty of the textures, tastes, sights, sounds, and smells of the world around us  We fostered a sense of co-operation, community and belonging. The children had specific learning outcomes that they were engaged in. They led, they explored, they enjoyed, they played and they enhanced their skills as learners. They made mistakes but learned through trial and error that they must fail in order to achieve…


Tim Peakes realised what he had missed down here after six months in space…That it is indeed wonderful to be back on Earth and he is so right the smells on earth are so strong. We just need to remember to keep noticing. There is nowhere I’d rather be…

Next steps…To continue to encourage students to face challenges and explore their passions in a stimulating, supportive environment where being the best you can be is paramount

  • To continue to enjoy the experiences that the natural world around us offers
  • To invite our local community and other schools to join us in our scientific enquiry in the Educational Conservation Garden
  • To research and develop nature trails for our forest and beach schools for our local community and other school children

Would you like to join us?


Fun is learning. Learning is Fun…

Look to Collaboration across Teaching and Learning Communities.

What a fun, enthusiastic and exciting week I’ve just had…

At an inter-authority leadership conference held in Argyll and Bute, colleagues from Bearsden Academy reminded me that it was more than okay to aspire to, do what I’d always set out to do, ensure that learning is fun. In fact, it is the word that takes precedence in their aims, vision and values. They and were recently rewarded with an excellent from HMIE for their improvement through self-evaluation.

wp_ss_20160529_0001In my first year of teaching the message I gave my young learners was that teaching and learning should be fun. Nine years on I am still having fun, further inspired as I watch those young learners, I first shared that belief with, embarking on their exciting chosen destinations.

Bearsden Academy leadership staff are committed to working together to be all they can be. It shone in their faces, in their passion for their learning and teaching so much so that they could have employed many new members of staff that day because don’t we all want our lives, including our working lives to be fun? Yes, we want it to be enriching; yes we want to make a difference to learners and we all want them and ourselves to be valued but what about the notion that by having fun with our teaching and learning it can be the driver that makes the difference to everyone. The first powerful quote that touched a chord was ‘leave the negative thinkers behind!’ Yes, please! How much more fun would life be then? If everyone was positive, solution based and forward thinking in their desires whilst remaining respectful of others positive ambitions and aims then the skies the limit.is

Fun is an intriguing word. Often the first thought is the belief that fun means being light hearted and something to be engaged in when the hard work is over. Is it a word that is considered deep and meaningful enough, when we are aiming for excellence for our learners within Scottish education?


Heading back to the island with lots to mull over.

I think so… Of course it is! if I remain true to my beliefs that education is predominantly about nurturing our young to become all they can be then of course ‘fun’ is an enormous gift, an invaluable skill to continue to model and share with all learners. Ensuring that learning is enjoyable, exciting and pleasurable will surely enhance engagement and thus attainment and achievement. In order to love doing something it has to be fun.

Following the inspirational collegiate working opportunity at Sandbank Primary, Dunoon, on that pleasure filled Saturday, I gathered further evidence that I needed to inform and reinforce my refreshed approach. After all obstacles are only what get in your way when you take your eyes off the goal…

Day one I started tweeting and collaborating with other positive thinkers. Guess what?

It was fun!


I then went into school modelling fun, which is easy when you love your work place already. However I still made sure that I had the biggest smile on my face and perfected the best spring in my step, before gathering and recording the evidence I needed from my pupils by asking ‘What makes learning fun?’ Soon Sticky post-its galore were filled… ‘Being able to interact, do things themselves, get messy, make choices about how they learn, be listened to and solve challenges’ were the driving desires.

I was extremely fortunate as our week of fun was soon to kick off with a pre-planned ‘Fizz Bang Boom’ chemistry workshop from Generation Science for Edinburgh science festival week. The challenge was to make a chemical reaction that was colourful and fizzing. The pupils interacted, they made a mess, they were listened to and they were entertained to learn and, my goodness, did they learn. The evidence was in their questions and answers and their enthusiasm. The evidence was in the Lego models they chose to make and annotate after showing their creative, evaluating and analytical skills. It was in the paintings, the comic strips, the posters. It was in the variety of mediums that they chose to share their learning through.wp_ss_20160523_0003

Exciting stuff… But the best part for me was when the pupils took ownership of that learning and took it home showing the ability to transfer their knowledge, understanding and skills and engage totally when the learning was enjoyable. A variety of evidence for the breadth and depth of their learning came into school the next day.

I myself tweeted further and had fun sharing the learning and watching as it reached across from our small island school and out into a wider community, locally, nationally and internationally. I gave the pupils a choice… to experiment at home or not and to my delight the majority chose to be the scientific enquirers I knew they could be! I had to try really hard not to jump up and down with the sheer joy the next day when pupils brought in a variety of learning evidence to share: An I-movie of lit match sticks and coin trick (pupil and parent collaboration); a home baked blue crispy cake came in complete with photographs of the creation. Stories of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar filled the classroom as well as messy kitchens. Best of all was the home made honeycomb bought in to share and the I-movie video that analysed and evaluated the cooking and scientific explanations of the chemical reaction. I was close to crying with delight. The joy of the learning experience created further fun and inspiration for us all.

Next steps:10-life-lessons-from-dr-suess-11-728

  • Blog to share the ethos of working and sharing collaboratively whilst having fun (of course!)
  • Inspire all the learners into having enjoyment and meaningful experiences with their learning beyond the classroom walls
  • Get more rest and sleep to handle all the new found enthusiasm

Hmm. Not sure where I will find the time. But guess what? I’m sure I will have fun trying…