GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

A happy school is a healthy school

Love, joy and laughter play a precious role in every learning day

Lindsey Watt, former headteacher

I was recently invited to join the Scottish delegation accompanying the Deputy First Minister to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in Lisbon. The focus was New Challenges and Opportunities Facing the Teaching Profession in Public Education. I was struck by the commonality of the key themes that almost all countries placed at the top of their conference agendas: equity, closing the poverty-related attainment gap, recruitment of excellent teachers, and supporting the health and wellbeing of their teachers.

Some world delegates had attended the previous ISTP held in Scotland. They commented on the warmth of the Scottish welcome; our motivated, skilled teachers; the flexibility of Curriculum for Excellence; and our concentrated efforts to close the attainment gap. Having recently retired, after 39 years in education, it was fascinating for me to view first-hand that Scottish teachers are widely respected for our efforts to make Scotland the best place to grow up and be educated.

Teacher wellbeing is a universal concern and Issue 73 of this magazine drew attention to acclaimed wellbeing and resilience initiatives available in Scotland. It is vital that teaching teams access all supports which will improve the health of their school family.

Teacher wellbeing is a universal concern

On accepting the Robert Owen Award at the 2017 Scottish Learning Festival, I said that I would use the resulting publicity to promote the joy of teaching and school leadership. There is no more positive environment than a primary school and no matter how difficult the day, there is always a glimmer of joy and happiness, there has to be – after all, a school is full of children. Having spent my final teaching years at Castleview Primary School in Craigmillar, it was often heart-wrenching to see so many of our families facing tough realities every day. Yet resilience and joy was, and is, a huge part of daily life at school: a happy school is a healthy school.

On my retiral I was contacted by some pupils who I had previously taught. They didn’t recount my beautifully crafted lessons (and there were of course so many over numerous years); they remembered daft spontaneous events that we had shared such as the conga through the school on the last day of term, my falling in Loch Eck while at Benmore Residential, and setting my nail extensions on fire during an ill-advised science week experiment. These are the moments that add merriment to the learning day and hilarious memories recounted at staff get-togethers.

Years ago I undertook a secondment out of school. My then line manager reprimanded me for laughing too much during my coffee break. I was struck then, and I held it close for the rest of my career, that laughter could get teams through some pretty difficult times and no one should ever get a “row” for being happy at their work. I was very touched to recieve handmade cards from Castleview bairns with handwritten messages wishing me well. I think one wee boy wanted to say that he wished me a long and happy retirement and so he wrote “Goodbye Miss Watt, I love you, I hope you don’t die too soon.” Yes, me too son, fingers crossed.

Having come through three operations to remove cancerous tumours and resulting diagnoses of PTSD, I experienced in the latter years of my career occasional days where I struggled to deliver, and yet our team, recognising that I had been there for them when it was needed, supported me through those difficult times and an even stronger bond was created. We were in this together and being at work soothed my body and soul. Love and joy healed me.

Our team, recognising that I had been there fore them when it was needed, supported me through those difficult times and an even stronger bond was created"

 

In April I began a new role as a tutor for Columba 1400’s Headteacher Leadership Academies. All headteachers in Scotland are offered this opportunity, which is SCEL accredited and funded by the Hunter Foundation and the Scottish Government. It is a values-based leadership experience and is founded on the values of awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance and service. Encompassing all these values is love and joy. At present, the world is going through some pretty difficult times, and for those of us who have the privilege of teaching or supporting Scotland’s most precious gift, its children, we have a duty to nurture them with love and joy. Our Scottish Government or any of our local authorities would never say that there is too much laughter in our schools. If we are serious about health and wellbeing, the love and joy in learning should be developed just as much as reading or numeracy.

The summer term is upon us, may you be the catalyst to create love, joy and laughter.

Go well, my friends.

About the Author

Born in Edinburgh, Lindsey Watt began her teaching career in 1979 and has recently retired as Headteacher of Castleview Primary School, Craigmillar Edinburgh. She held the post of Headteacher for 25 years and was previously Headteacher of Edinburgh’s Sciennes and Abbeyhill Primary Schools. In 2011 Lindsey was a member of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning’s Attainment Group and in 2013/14 she was seconded to the Department of Children and Families to support the raising of attainment across the city and to create a leadership programme for headteachers. She returned to Craigmillar in May 2014 to resume her post at Castleview with the additional responsibility of seconded Headteacher Broad General Education at Castlebrae Community High School. Lindsey was awarded the 2017 Robert Owen Award for Inspirational Educator by the Deputy First Minister and is now a member of the International Council of Education Advisors, Scotland. Lindsey was Highly Commended by the Chief Executive of The City of Edinburgh Council for her outstanding contribution to education in Edinburgh. She now supports Columba 1400’s Team in delivering Headteacher Leadership Academies.