The 3 day return & the …flower

2 minute read …

This week I was fortunate to spend time in another school in the authority called Angus. I say this because it is a real honour to be invited into another school full of hard working professionals and children. I was out of my own school for three days before the return.

The first morning back I spoke to a wee girl even before the school had opened as I walked across the car park. She immediately asked where I’d been. She said she thought I must have had loads of meetings or something and was glad I was back. She then told me about moving up a level in gymnastics and spending time with her Dad. I thanked her for being kind and taking an interest in me. I told her I wasn’t surprised she had moved up in her gymnastics so quickly.

Earlier that morning I had cut my own lip shaving in the dark. Don’t ask. The amount of children who asked about my lip in the first hour of school was literally into double figures. So much so that before I spoke to children I’d say, “ Yes ok, I’ve cut my lip, I’m fine, I’m tough, let’s focus on you now…” that gave them permission to stop thinking about me and think of themselves…I kept this rapid fire bout of informal check ins going for the rest of the morning as I walked around the school to find out if everyone was ok.

I walked towards a group of children playing a game of “Guess Who?” with a teacher over lunchtime.

The boy said, “It’s got feathers,”

Ok so it’s got feathers, everyone looked puzzled.

Clue number two, “It’s got sharp claws,” at this point the five or so children  and the teacher started to look like the penny had dropped…

…then the smallest boy piped up, “Feathers, sharp claws,” everyone turned nodding expectantly ….wait for it…..

”A ……………….flower!!!”

Silence – complete silence. Not what anyone expected!

I later popped into a class to ask a child for something and a wee boy said, “ Hey Mr Murray, you want to watch that,” as he pointed to his own lip. “Look after yourself,” he then said. Brilliant.

Lots of different children stopped me across the rest of the two days  to say things along the lines of …how proud they were of me doing my talk in front of so many people.  I said, “Did I look nervous?”  They all said, “Yes.” I said “Really?” One girl said, “You looked different, you didn’t have gel in your hair!” I laughed. A boy said, “You didn’t smile much!” and another said, he thought I was trying to be serious.

The last one said he found my speech by typing in “I’m trying to find Mr Murray talking to thousands of people,” Google search is something else isn’t it.

It was nice to think children and families were watching my talk regardless of my hair style or performance.

As I walked down the stairs tonight to leave, Anne who cleans the downstairs of the school, stopped me and said, “I’m glad you are back and I missed you.” What a nice thing to say I thought.

It is one thing to think it but a very different thing to then say it….and that’s what we all want really isn’t it?

We all want to work in an environment where no matter how tough things can get…and they can…we still remember it’s about people.

Our local authority has a mantra..a hashtag – Great people, great place….and you know what?  – having spent a week between another school and my own they are so right.!

Great people with the right permission make great places.

Great people and great places make people think of others first ……..and sometimes flowers,

even if the answer was actually ………….an eagle ; )

Have a great weekend everyone.




The 3 day return & the …flower

Too old for play dough….

2 minute read.

I did a focus group with some children in our school. I asked the question to ten year old children. “Does your classroom or teacher help you to regulate?” Those are exactly the words I used. Regulate. We can ask questions like “ How does your teacher help you learn?” or “ What makes a good teacher?” but I chose to focus on the word “regulate” to see if the ten year old children understood it.

They told me “yes” …they can choose to do concentration colouring in at the “drawing table,” “impossible puzzles” to distract themselves, breathing beads, use their worry boxes, Lego, stretching and play dough. They use the five point scale, they have check ins three times a day and can speak to the teacher anytime they like.

Then one of them piped up “reading.” We read five times a day in our class!  “Reading helps you regulate.” Those were the exact words. Matt Haigh once said, “Reading is the best form of meditation,” and already children are cottoning onto this idea.

Perhaps because they read so much this is why the classroom is so peaceful? Perhaps the “permission” to take part in activities which enable them to stay calm help them too? Perhaps worry boxes which are co-constructed with the child helps too? Perhaps it’s the fact all learning in the class is linked to wellbeing outcomes?

Nevertheless it’s very different from when I was at school…but it’s really a question of strengthening and protecting what is important in your own school or place of work isn’t it.

I then asked all five separately what does your classroom look like, sound like and feel like? All five said a combination of either, “ peaceful, hardworking and calm.” One girl changed the word “calm,” for “feels grown up,” and another changed “hard working” for “busy.”

It was the bit about “grown up” and play dough which was of interest when I thought about this blog….they seem at odds don’t they? But not for that little girl and not in our school….

I spoke at our assembly and talked to the P4-P7’s about why you will always see me walking about fiddling with a key and a fob in my hand or fiddling with it in my pocket…. I explained to them because I needed it to ground me, keep me calm. Some people use other stuff I use my keys.

I then offered that whilst I had plonked myself in the area outside our four p6 and p7 classes ( to hide in plain sight mainly from my ringing phone..) . I nipped into P6 and asked a boy for some of his play dough to help me keep calm. I had left my keys in my office. He had the play dough in a plastic folder.

I then went on to say “what we say to others can also keep them grounded,” and we talked about using our language – “ I am here, you are safe,” or “What do you need from me?” “This feeling shall pass,” and so on….

Now if you’d told me a year ago that I could ask children about the word “regulate” without explaining it or would be speaking to hundreds of children about my own overactive stress response I’d have thought it highly unlikely. Times change don’t they…or they are a changing.

Anyway as the day went on and I was chatting away to children a P4 boy came up and said, “Mr Murray where can I get a set of keys?” He then winked, laughed and went back into his classroom and sat down….with a tub of green play dough on his desk! Kindred spirits indeed …

So here’s to whatever keeps you grounded this week whether it’s a good cup of coffee, a set of keys, a good book, a good conversation, the gym or play dough….and remember you are never, ever too old for play dough!

Have a great week everyone.



Too old for play dough….

Too late for a good morning …

There is a lot of discussion about pay, tests, play, aces, trauma and empowerment at the moment.

This blog isnt really about any of them except the last word empowerment.

One of my colleagues talked about looking for excellence in your own organisation first and once you find it start growing it.

Our own authority through their Virtual School are supporting this idea through a network and nourish approach.

I’m reminded of something Nadine Burke Harris talked about – the best possible experience and environment for healthy gene expression. If Scottish schools across the country embedded this phrase in their Improvement vernacular then we would be marching towards optimising performance in this respect.

Sometimes positive childhood experience can be achieved by those infintestible small actions we  can introduce by using our ingenuity and initiative.

If every regional collaborative identified a cultural map which would help every school identify their starting point wouldn’t this be a good idea?

We fully understand the map is not the territory (adversity ) but it allows us to begin to all create the best environment we can muster and apply the cumulative therapeutic doses across the day Nadine talks about.

Here is a very simple example. If any of your schools use a “late” system for children arriving ten minutes or so after the school begins you might consider this simple change.

We used to have a wee slip/card for children coming in late. This allowed them to pass it to the teacher and he/she could amend the computer register / dinners etc…we have 17 classes in our primary school and it’s importaht to keep track so children eat first and foremost or we can support children who are not attending or ask after children who return following absence.

It was the word “late” that our Depute Head had an issue with. So she changed it to a “Good morning” card or a “Good afternoon” card.

It’s still a “late” card in essence but the words make all the difference don’t they. You are essentially reinforcing the message you are giving verbally by the words on the slip too. The colour is neutral also. We are thankful to see the child in school regardless and the message echoes this.

It is so simple yet effective communication I felt compelled to share it this week. If we could all establish cultural maps across authorities then schools could literally transform their practice in those tiny incremental nuances John Carnochan talked about.

Have a great week everyone.

Too late for a good morning …

My Grandad & the Clyde…

I have an identical twin brother. He is older than me by fifteen minutes which doesn’t necessarily make him any wiser although he likes to think so! He also works in education as a Depute Headteacher in a Primary School in Dundee. He reminded me of a story my father had told us about my grandad.

My father was from Dumbarton and played for Glasgow Celtic, Aberdeen, Dundee and Dundee United as a professional footballer. His name was Stephen Murray. His father was also called Stephen and was also a professional football player for Falkirk. When he stopped playing football he worked in the shipyards along the Clyde.

This story is about my father’s father.. a once talented footballer turned boat builder. The story goes like this …

My grandfather was one of the most respected builders of ships along the Clyde shipyards. He could turn his hand to anything and had worked in the engine rooms of some of the biggest and best boats the world had ever seen. He was an engineer by trade and a wonderful draughtsman to boot. My two brothers and I would often marvel at the technical drawings he would produce for us at a moments notice as if he were pulling these intricate designs effortlessly from a book shelf in his mind.

A boat had just been completed, years in the making and my grandfather had retired shortly before the launch. This was one of the most amazing ships  the world had ever seen! The Queen herself was due to launch the boat within a few weeks.

The story goes that two weeks before launch they tested the boat’s engine and it would not start – nothing, silence, dead as a dodo…

Needless to say there were huge amounts of panic, consternation  and cross words amongst all the builders in the ship yard. They tried everything but could not fix it.

They went to the best boat builders and shipyards around the world and flew them in at a moments notice to spare the embarrassment of missing the launch date with the Queen. Nothing! No one could fix it.

One of the architects then suggested they track down my grandfather and bring him back out of retirement to see what he could do. They found him feeding ducks at the local pond and asked if he would mind coming with them to have a look.

He did it as a favour. When he arrived, the best engineers in the world were on site and they looked down their noses as this old man with horn rimmed glasses and bryl creamed hair with an old metallic toolkit began walking up the gangway. This was not lost on my grandfather and he heard the muttering from the engineers who drove fancy cars and were paid huge amounts of money to fix unfixable things but on this occasion had failed.

So my grandfather went into the engine room and went to the biggest pipe that ran through the centre of the engine. He went into his toolkit and pulled out a hammer. He hammered the pipe once and pressed his ear to the metal and listened. He then walked twenty yards, ran his hand along the pipe as if looking for something , paused, found it and then raised his hammer again and struck the massive pipe a second time. He then walked a further ten yards and pressed two fingers to the pipe as if he were checking for  a heartbeat on a patient and struck the pipe a third and final time.

He then turned and put his hammer in his toolbox and said “ Its fixed,” the engineers from all around the world laughed.

But …within minutes strange noises began to crunch, grind and churn and got louder and louder…into a deafening roar and the massive engine began to spring into life .. like a yawning lion …just as my father began to leave the engine room.

The owner of the shipyard said, “ How much are we due you Stevie?” My grandfather replied “1000 pounds.”

Now in those days this was a lot of money. So the owner challenged him to why £1000. My grandfather replied, “ For using my hammer three times £2. For knowing WHY the engine wasn’t starting, HOW to fix it and WHAT had caused the breakdown …£998.”

I’m not sure if my grandfather ever received the full amount but he certainly earned it didn’t he or at least the Queen thought so.

Now I am no shipbuilder but I do try and build things ; confidence mainly, then systems and big ideas for starters and my grandfather taught me that the most important thing is the WHY the WHAT and the HOW (and to carry a hammer because you never know.)

If we can teach children the importance of WHY, WHAT and HOW in every lesson then the children will do very well indeed whatever the future of work and industry brings.

If we also bring this idea of WHY, WHAT and HOW to our work as leaders of learning and teams then we will also do very well indeed.

Thanks grandad and thank you all for reading this ..have a great weekend



My Grandad & the Clyde…

Two drops of oil & ACES

Part of my talk at the upcoming ACES conference will focus on the idea of freedom. I hope to take the idea and relate it to deprivation, education and adversity as a continuum running from licence to responsibility. A balancing weight on this continuum of “freedom” is meaning & purpose. The following story adapted from the master Pablo Coelho ( a Brazilian writer ) develops this far better than I ever could…

There was once a little boy who wanted to find out the meaning of life. So he went to the wisest man in the citadel. The old man asked the young boy to walk around the city for a few hours and return telling him about all he could see. Just before the boy set off, the old man gave him a silver spoon and placed two drops of oil on it. He warned the little boy not to spill the oil as he went on his quest.

So the boy went for a walk around the citadel and returned hours later. When the old man asked what he’d seen… he replied “Absolutely nothing” …because he was too busy staring intently at the two drops of oil on the spoon. So the old man said, “Leave and do it all again and this time look up and take in all the city has to offer!”.

The little boy went off with his spoonand the two drops of oil. This time he looked up from the spoon as he walked and saw beautiful princesses and palaces, strange creatures and markets, children begging in the shadows and men performing in the streets for a few coins. When he returned the old man asked him to look at the spoon and to his surprise the two drops of oil had dropped off the spoon.

“Why did you ask me to do this task?” said the young boy. The old man explained that the two drops of oil were meaning and purpose.

The secret to a happy life is to focus on meaning and purpose but also to take in the joy, wonder and suffering that is all around you in this world.

So we must first pick up our spoon and whether the drops of oil …are to help families and fulfil our own potential by helping others reach theirs, it matters not – we must all find our own way and keep our own life in balance by never being afraid to look up and take in all that the world has to offer…but always, always… keep one eye on our moral purpose.

Have a great week everyone and I am really looking forward to sharing more of our work and ideas at the upcoming conference in Glasgow.





Two drops of oil & ACES

Worries & Dragons

I told this story to our 428 children at assembly on Friday.

A little girl woke one day to find a tiny dragon on the end of her bed. My mum must have bought me a new toy she thought. As the girl got out of the bed to go down to breakfast the dragon moved a tiny bit and the little girl shrieked…”Mum” she shouted, “There is a tiny dragon in my room!” Her mother, who was downstairs making pancakes for their breakfast shouted up, “There is no such thing as a dragon!”

At this point the dragon was the size of a cat but it immediately grew to the size of a dog. The little girl went downstairs to have breakfast. The dragon followed..,

At this point the dragon which was as big as a large bull was sitting on the table. Just as the little girl was going to eat her pancakes the dragon wolfed them down in a single gulp. There was no point telling her mum because she already knew she did not believe in dragons.

The dragon kept getting bigger and bigger until it was so big it picked up the house they were staying in like a tortoise shell and wandered down the street.

Her Dad returned from work to find the house was no longer there but the neighbour pointed down the street to the dragon and their house walking through their local park.

As soon as the little girl saw her Dad approaching in his car she shouted, “Dad there is a dragon in our house.” At this point mum, who was pressed up against the kitchen window trying to squeeze around one of the dragons legs said, “ Maybe there is a dragon in our house after all.”

As soon as the words were spoken the dragon started to get smaller and smaller and smaller until very quickly it went back to the size of a kitten.

The end …

The children in our school knew this story wasn’t about dragons it was about “worries” and the importance of talking about them otherwise they can get bigger and bigger like a dragon in the story.

We do a lot of relation in our school because it’s important children are able to express how they feel. It’s also important children are introduced to the idea of sharing worries in simple ways they can remember…like the analogy in the story.

However, despite the check ins, our staff asking after every child they encounter, standing at gates even before they enter school grounds, check ins, check outs, kitbags, enhanced check ins, leadership team drop ins not all children are ready to talk about worries.

This could obviously be for a number of reasons but this blog is focussed on the point of the story – small worries which grow and grow unless we acknowledge them and or deal with them.

Perhaps they lack the vocabulary to express what they are feeling and for others it is to do with waiting for the depth of the relationship to align with the desire to tell.

It’s not about vampires although you may be forgiven for thinking that as I started off with dragons.

My own daughter who is six responds to my questions after school in usual fashion – “What happened at school today? Anything good?” – sometimes yes, sometines no…”I cried because I was scared of the hail stones,” or “ I fell and hurt my knee,” or “Emily was sick in the middle of the classroom,” Poor Emily!

This is usually between 5-6.30 each night…,So we chat, we reframe, I dig a bit deeper and hit Bedrock and give up…and move swiftly on to the tea and then bath routine.

Just as twilight starts though my daughter will then invariably say, “ Daddy can I tell you something?” This usually results in her talking about “dragons,” nothing major – just fall outs or a dropped paint pot or misconception in a story where she takes something literally….is there such a thing as an angry talking rabbit in Winnie the Pooh etc??

I wondered why she had not told me about all these mishaps and concerns earlier in the evening when I first asked …why always wait till just before bedtime or at twilight?

So I thought about it and realised it just might be …at the point when she gets so, so tired to the point of wanting to sleep – her two fields of conscious and subconscious may start to overlap …just momentarily and at that point her worries are drawn to the forefront of her thoughts and she can share them.

So perhaps this is why this happens? Perhaps this is why we encourage bedtime routines or even just saying goodnight because sometimes finding little dragons like the one in the story is all down to timing and the twilight.

Just a thought … take care, good luck everyone and thank you for reading this …

Worries & Dragons

Talking at me …St Francis…

When I was very small I would go to mass with my family and because I had a really loud voice (for a little person) I was expected by my family to sing.

Not just sing… but sing loudly and in tune. If I didn’t manage then my mum on one side would dig me in the ribs. If she didn’t my Granny Quinn on the other side would pause from her knitting and surely do the same thing. So I learned to sing and sing really loudly. I also learned to memorise and so began my ability to remember words and then use them later.

One of the songs I remember from those days of bruised ribs was “Make me a channel of your peace.”

I think it was by St Francis but I may be wrong. Nonetheless the words are timeless…

“To be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,” Many a school or Scottish institution would not going wrong by heeding this creed …

It is the line, “ to be understood as to understand,” I want to focus in on – partly because I knew this bit off by heart… so belted it out much to the chagrin of lots of older people who would wince, haunch  their shoulders in the pew in front and turn round.

When children have the weight of the world on their shoulders or perhaps turn anger inwards then the ability to express themselves often suffers.

More often than not it is difficult to reach children and often times we can be guilty of talking too much ourselves or putting words into their mouths.

This reinforces for them that their feelings are less important than the adults “take” on what happened and what may happen next. They learn this pretty quickly….and shut down literally.

So what is to be done? Well as a school we sat down just before the summer and thought – ok we do lots of talking and listening and we think we do it really well but there is in truth further work to be done.

We need to ensure all children have the vocabulary they need to express themselves otherwise they will never feel a sense of agency, the right to participate and take action or as St Francis puts it “to understand and be understood.”

We are using some of our PEF money to build on our focussed work in wellbeing and learning by working with Speech and Language therapists on a weekly basis for a year..Maria and Kirstie are both very positive people, enthusiastic, determined and a welcome addition to our team.

Our 3-5 year olds will benefit from learning from our staff who will be trained in focussed interaction to improve vocabulary and expression and develop a love of language. Our 5-7 year olds will learn how to listen and communicate effectively through a listening and talking taught evidence based programme and our whole school will benefit from a new approach to teaching vocabulary and in truth closing the vocabulary gap which exists throughout the country.

We also will be using a whole school approach to visuals which will promote smooth transitions and reinforce clear expectations of how we do things like travel around school safely or invite a new person into a game and so on.

The most frustrating aspect of making a mistake or feeling hard done by is a lack of ability to communicate. It stops the learning on both sides dead in its tracks. We believe learning and wellbeing are interconnected so I need say no more about the impact one has on the other.

There is a lot of “talk” about connection and relationships but this is a small part in promoting the reality of getting to grips with the complexity of wellbeing – it starts with the ability to understand and be understood and that means it’s all about communication.

As a system we should perhaps be thinking about using monies, time, expertise to invest in similar plans for every school and maybe Scotland could become one of the best countries in the world at listening and talking. In turn just think about the impact this would have upon our culture and our youngest children…better talkers, better writers, better readers, better thinkers, better problem solvers, better innovators, better learners.

You don’t need to be a Burns or Mcgonagall or a St Francis but you do need to understand and be understood. Something to consider …even if you sing as badly as I do…

Talking at me …St Francis…