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Shackleton – Leadership in Crisis

Shackleton james caird in surfEvery day we are presented with changing and unpredictable situations which affect the way we think, operate and teach. These situations can be extremely stressful and difficult to manage from a team perspective but if overcome can be extremely rewarding.  From a management point of view it would be good if everyone had the same attitude and drive but a team is made of many individual characters, each bringing their own unique attributes and skills.  Working with team members in a way which means the whole is greater than a sum of their parts is what makes managers special and teams great.  Understanding what motivates certain individuals and adjusting a management style accordingly is the difference between a good leader and one who is inspirational and can get the most from everyone in the team.

One man who really knew how to get the best from his team was Sir Ernest Shackleton.  He was the ultimate manager in pulling together a group of men under extreme circumstances in a changing environment.

Shackleton was an expert in adapting his leadership skills and this was demonstrated most when under the greatest pressure. Not many people could handle the knowledge that every decision they made could cost lives and this was the very circumstance he found himself in on the Trans Antarctic expedition in 1914. I remember back to university when one of my lecturers used to use the saying ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ to demonstrate how we needed to think on our feet at times. This is exactly what Shackleton did when after his boat was broken up by ice there was a realisation that he couldn’t meet his first goal of crossing Antarctica.  He had to adapt to the situation with survival the number one priority and quickly changed his goal  to getting everyone home safely. He had to attempt to draw together a plan while not knowing the inputs or what lay ahead and at the same time making sure that his team were productive and functional which meant keeping morale high and objectives near term.

Shackleton leadership in crisisFor scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton. — Sir Edmund Hillary

Shackletons selection process for the trip was described as erratic and impulsive which maybe showed that planning was not his greatest attribute but when the trip was underway the skills he portrayed in managing the individuals within the group is an example to us all.  In today’s changing business climate and especially in a start-up business these skills are an absolute must where a combination of planning and decision making  must be balanced with finding a way to knock down walls  and not hold things up .

Many managers in senior positions could learn a lot about what drove and motivated Shackleton and how he earned the respect of his men.


Posted in Startup, Team Building

Students Wagging The Education System

Not many people realise this but education strategy and delivery is being dictated by the students themselves and not the governments.  It’s being done due to the way our government fund the system.

As money is squeezed in the education sector there is more and more pressure being placed on making sure that we get value for money and as a tax payer then of course we are looking for value for money.  Educators are being asked to make sure course sizes are as big as possible so the institutions can drive revenue.  The fact funding is dependant on the number of students through the door and sitting on courses means that course subjects are driven by demand from students.

For example: we’re in the middle of the computer game generation where games and apps are a part of every day life for the children and as a result every one of them wants to be a games programmer or designer.  So they are coming out of school and see the games courses as something they really want to do and see it as an exciting career. So it’s natural for institutions to offer what is being requested after all the customer is always right, yes?

No this time they are wrong! This skill direction is being set by the customer and not the government and it’s going to lead to a saturation of talent in areas that don’t need it.  I mentioned in a previous report about the skills shortage for general digital skills and the government need to do something to address this immediately, next year is too late.  They cannot leave it to the institutions either because they are too busy managing their own businesses and driving revenue to maintain delivery under extremely challenging circumstances. This problem can only be solved through the introduction of new programmes and legislation aimed at directing delivery in a way that is strategically good for our country as a whole.

My message to the SNP Scottish government and the Conservatives in Westminster is ‘Come on stop messing around … wake up before we get left way behind’

Something needs to happen now!

Posted in Education, New Technologies

Skills Shortage And The Need To Inspire A Generation

Not to be the bearer of doom and gloom but there is a serious issue creeping up on the digital sector in the UK and there isn’t much being done to address it.  At a time when we should be embracing technology and educating our future workforce into how it works it would appear we are not doing it fast enough.

UK will have a shortage of 100,000 people to fill IT jobs in the next few years. In Europe, including the UK, the skills shortage is expected to reach 700,000.


With such high youth unemployment in this country why is there still a skills gap within a generation who would be perfect to fill this?  Well it’s becoming really apparent that the children coming out of school, college and universities are not leaving with the right skill set and more importantly not the right attitude necessary to deliver what is needed in a commercial environment.  The expectation level in this generation is too great with no real focus or drive.  Fuelled by the booming digital age where things are literally a click or button press away and information flows freely then there is a perception that you no longer have to do much to get what you want and things come easy.  This is wrong and with this blooming digital age there is a vast amount to absorb, learn and do.  This sector is as challenging as ever and will only now grow in complexity and size but with that also comes opportunity.

As a nation we need to take action, we need to empower our youth and guide them in the right direction.  Just like the Olympics said we really need to ‘Inspire a Generation’.  We can’t lose them or let this generation drift, we must get them on board, excite them, educate them and let them grow and in turn grow our economy.  To do this they need something to attach themselves too and feel proud, they need to feel they hold their own destiny in their hands.  We need to provide a way of giving them the opportunity to do this.

Posted in Education, New Technologies, Team Building

The Execution Cycle

So you’ve pitched the product idea to a bunch of stakeholders and investors and they loved it! It was creative, it was inspirational and everyone could see the potential in what you are are doing. So much in fact that they handed over all the funding you needed to get it off the ground there and then (We all know it’s not quite like that) in other words you need to build your project vehicle.

So now what …

  • you have to build a team
  • you have to find good dependable resource
  • you have to find people who are interested in working with you
  • you have to put in place a implementation strategy
  • you have to put in place a product strategy
  • you have to put in place a product plan
  • you have to build knowledge  into the business
  • you have to make it scalable
  • you have to operate what you build <- this is a big unknown for many but I’ll leave that for another blog post

All (most) of this needs put in place before you really start the exexcution cycle on your product/project. It’s a lot of work with the the recruitment of key people the most important part and in itself a major headache, especially for non domain specific startup people. How do you know you are hiring the right people? How the hell do you know what questions to ask?

I’ve been working in the technology sector in Scotland for the last 13 years and have brought together various teams of people to deliver both small and large projects.  The key is finding the right attitude and commitment and once you have these two ingredients you can build skills which builds value.

In the digital sector in Scotland it is a problem getting product out because the market is young and there are not a lot of people around who have experience.   I’ve seen many mentors associated with a lot of incubation type programmes offer business type support. In my opinion early stage startup technology companies don’t really need ‘business’ support. They need execution and team support! You don’t really have a business until you execute and build value and know how. It’s a bit backwards talking about commercialisation, business process and IP protection up front when you don’t know what the product is going to be at alpha, beta and launch. If anyone tells me that the product definition will not change from the conception to the end of execution then they are talking rubbish.

Many people I’ve spoken to are not aware of the work involved in setting up the execution path and are continually swept along by help that tries to induce creativity and idea flow.  Building out the execution is also too much work for one person to do alone, hence the reason you need to build a team.

My advice is batter through the fluff around the edges and concetrate on building a team who can deliver. Do everything you can to build knowledge and people interested in the business who buy into the vision.  The rest will come later.

If you can’t find experience then buy into attitude, commitment and potential and spend a bit more time nurturing and teaching. It may take longer than you want but it will be an easier ride to the end goal.


Posted in Startup, Team Building


Olivia talking at a teachmeet.

Posted in services

Mass Challenge

Around easter I was given the opportunity to spend some time with a company in Mass Challenge @masschallenge, a startup incubator in Boston. Situated right in the heart of the expanding innovation district it’s geared up to bring companies through a very intense 4 month program. Provding them with the facillities and help needed to push them forward.

Started in 2010, this year it will bring through 125 companies into the full program. The 236 startups supported in the 2010 and 2011 Accelerators have already raised over $250M in outside funding and created 2,150 new jobs. Thats almost 10 employees for each company started!

Everything about Mass Challenge is no frills and there is a real sense of togetherness and cooperation. Teams of people working to hit deadlines and big cheques hanging from the roof to show seed money.  There was a real buzz of getting things done but at the same time a tranquillity and excitement about getting it done.  From the whiteboard walls where people added their logos and formulas to the pool table and break out areas, every aspect of the building was about creating an environment to accommodate peoples needs to keep them productive and energised.

An amazing learning experience and shows you don’t need purpose built incubators, just a roof, a desk and an internet connection.


Posted in Startup

Homework Help Website

In a March we are hosting a numeracy showcase for parents to come and experience some of the ways their children are taught maths.  One of my colleagues suggested that we gave the parents a handout with a list of websites the children could use at home to help reinforce their learning.  However being handed a sheet full of very long URL’s to type in, is not very inspiring or practical.  So I suggested that I could create a website that would contain all these links which would mean that the parents would only need 1 URL.  So over the last week I have created a Homework Help website using wix (please note this is a flash website and so will not work on IPhones or IPads).  What was great was that I was able to make the folders I had already created with weblinks in Edmodo public.  So all I had to do with this website was create links to these, simple!  What’s even better is that I have a couple of pupils in my class that have issues remembering their passwords to our VLE so I can tell them just to use this website and it means they don’t need to waste any time logging in.

Please feel free to share the website URL with your friends and colleagues and if you have any suggestions for improvements to the site or websites I should include then please let me know on the feedback page.

Posted in New Technologies


I’ve decided to write this post about Eportfolios because even though I’ve been using them with my class for quite a while, I am constantly asked for advice on how to set them up. This post will hopefully help those people with any questions they have. If you think I’ve missed any important information out or have addition questions please feel free to comment at the bottom of this post.

What are Eportfolios?

Basically an eportfolio is an online digital space that pupils can use to reflect on learning, record wider achievement and teachers can use as an assessment tool.
Why did I start using Eportfolios?
Currently the school I work in uses a Learning Log as a way for the children to share their targets and reflect on their learning. This learning log is a folder which contains sheets of paper which the children fill in. I’d been finding that completing these logs was becoming very time consuming and very uninspiring for the pupils. At that point I had just not long completed my Glow (Scottish Schools VLE) training and decided to use this as a place to house our eportfolios.

How do you create an Eportfolio in Glow?

There is a National Eportfolio Glow group which can be found here. There you will find help sheets and videos which will take you through the set up process. However three things you will need to do before setting up eportfolios are
1. Ensure all pupils have Glow Light enabled (this can be done by clicking on pupil or staff home, scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking on Change Glow Light Settings. You must then ensure that Use Glow Light as my default home page when I next log in has been ticked)
2. Ensure that all pupils have permission to use Glow blogs (this can be done by your school ASM or by your Glow key contact)
3. Create a class or year Glow group which can be accessed by all the pupils. Either use the weblink part that already exists or create a new one for the pupils to put the URL’s of their eportfolios.
Once you have completed these 3 steps you are now ready to create your eportfolios with your pupils using the How to create an eporfolio help sheet.

What if I don’t have Glow?

The main part of the eportfolio that is created in Glow is a blog which uses wordpress. You can create your own free blog at There are lots of other sites where free blogs can be created e.g. blogger, edublogs, primary blogger, etc.

How can I use eportfolios with my class?

1. Each pupil’s eportfolio has a static front page; this allows them to create an All about me page. They can create an avatar and write some text to introduce themselves.
2. All posts the pupils write must be categorised. This makes it easy for readers to find posts on a similar subject; this is especially useful for interdisciplinary learning. Our eportfolios have categories for all areas of the curriculum, achievement, attainment, targets and review of the week.
3. Pupils can use the eportfolios as a place to record any targets they set for themselves and review their learning.
4. Pupils can report about and reflect on any learning undertaken. This becomes a very useful assessment tool for the teacher as it is easy to determine the level of understanding each pupil has of the activity they have participated in.
5. Eportfolios can be used as storage for evidence of work i.e. pieces of writing can be typed up and posted. Using a site called Slideboom PowerPoint presentations can be embedded into the blog. Websites that have been used for digital literacy activities e.g. voki, animoto and GoAnimate can also be embedded.
6. Feedback – All posts that are written can receive comments. This allows teachers to give instant feedback and also allows for peer to peer assessment.
7. Eportfolios can be shared extremely easily with parents who can also comment on their child’s posts.

Using the eportfolios with my class has been very successful. The pupils really enjoy creating posts and sharing their work. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in their enthusiasm to write and in their writing skills. Often pupils will post stories that they have been writing at home.

I have been involved in providing training other teachers in my cluster in how to set up eportfolios. Our next step is to decide what information an eportfolio contains so there will be continuity when P7’s move to S1.

Below is the animoto I created using the slides of my presentation I gave on Eportfolios at the Scottish Learning Festival 2011.

Posted in Formative Assessment, New Technologies


Last week I discovered Pearltrees, a place to collect, organise, discover and share everything you like on the web.  I haven’t used any of the other websites that are available to bookmark websites.  I usually favourite a link someone has posted on twitter or email myself the link.  This is not great because I quite often do not get a chance to check back and use the resource I found.

Pearltrees is very simple and easy to use, you need to use chrome as your web browser (and install the pearler) or there is an app available for ipads.  From your root Pearltree you create other pearltrees (these are the categories that you want to sort your weblinks into).  Whenever you find a great weblink, all you need to do is click the pearler and choose which pearltree you want it to be associated with.

So far I’ve been through all my favourites on twitter dating back to 2009 and found some really amazing resources.  You can view my Pearltree below feel free to share, join and add to.

[vodpod id=Video.16050055&w=425&h=350&]

My Pearltrees , posted with vodpod
Posted in New Technologies

Formative Assessment – Part two

Our work with talk partners has been very successful so far, the children were able to come up with some very good success criteria which we’ve typed up and put on the wall so they are an easy visual reminder (see photo below).

Using the lollysticks to choose children to share their answers is also proving very productive. It has allowed me to observe very quickly the children who either need to put more effort into their discussions or require some support. All the partnerships are proving to be very successful.

The next task for the talk partners was to revisit work we’d done previously on fixed and growth mindset. Each pair was given a pile of statements which they had to discuss then sort into the headings fixed and growth mindsets. Once this was done each pair had to get a different coloured pencil and tick the statements that related to how they tackled learning situations. They then discussed with their partners why they had ticked each statement and ways they could overcome having a fixed mindset. Since introducing fixed and growth mindsets in my classroom the results have been very rewarding. Most of the children have a very positive attitude towards tackling new problems and don’t feel so embarrassed or negative when they get things wrong.

The final task was to establish the requirements for learning.

“In order to ensure effective engagement, reflection, dialogue and appropriate guidance, we need to create, with pupils, the best environment for those elements and therefore for effective learning to take place” Clarke (2008)

First the children discussed what helps them learn then what stops them from learning. From these discussions the children produced a set of success criteria for “What does a successful learner do?”. These have been typed up and displayed prominently in the classroom so they can be easily referred back to during any task or activity. These criteria also make a good behaviour management tool as children can be reminded quickly how they can be successful.

In part three of Formative Assessment I will be looking at asking worthwhile questions.

Reading / Video that helped me

DVD – The Power of Formative Assessment – Shirley Clarke

Clarke, S (2008) Active Learning through Formative Assessment, Hodder Education

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Posted in Formative Assessment