Guest Post – Alan McLean: Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

Alan McLean is a Glasgow based chartered psychologist who has worked for many years as an educational psychologist.

We invited Alan in to the Kilmarnock Campus to give the keynote speech ahead of our recent CPD workshop for curriculum staff.

We are delighted that Alan has agreed to share his thoughts on our blog.


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It was a privilege and a pleasure to give the keynote address to the Ayrshire College Staff Conference on 15 February. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my latest thinking. It’s always good to get out and about and talk with people who are at the coalface. I am grateful for the warm welcome and the excellent organisation of the event.

I was hugely impressed with the fabulous Kilmarnock Campus, and its welcoming and open central space. What a fantastic location it has right in the heart of Kilmarnock. The messages emblazoned around the open space – of partnership blends, balance, relaxation, health and wellbeing were highly engaging. The College strap line of Raising Aspirations, Inspiring Achievement and Increasing Opportunities echoes the themes of my own work.

The invitation from Mhairi Boyd couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I have been putting the finishing touches to my latest book,“Knowing, Growing; Tools for developing insight in ourselves and others”, due for publication this summer.

The keynote was really a large workshop with three hundred and fifty participants. I prefer to get people talking than listening to me. I am always more interested in finding out what is in the minds of participants rather than telling them what is in mine.  Insight is all about understanding ourselves within our relationships.  Paradoxically self-reflection is easier in conversation with other people.  Conversation is the natural way we think together. The response from staff was I thought very reflective with a lot of humour, which always helps things move along.

I also appreciated lots of one-to-one conversations with colleagues, which is the main value of staff conferences. I have become addicted to ‘light bulb’ moments, flashes of new insights, which are fortunately very good for your brain. I was pointed in the direction of Ignatian Spirituality, which is new to me but akin to my own work, inclined to reflection and self-scrutiny and places great value on collaboration and teamwork. I was also directed to parts of the bible for links to my tree of selfhood metaphor.

I always find FE staff open to ideas and to be grounded and centred people. Every college is different and I have given up trying to make sense of all the different structures and roles across the different colleges. I also find interesting the range of perspectives I find across a college, from those who seem to thrive and flourish on high levels of autonomy to those at the other end of the spectrum who feel they have zero scope for discretion within the completely structured confines of the College.

You don’t expect to sail through a whole day at an FE College conference without some edgy conversations. It is always good to be challenged and one or two colleagues who were quite direct in letting me know what they think has helped me improve my work.

I hope the staff got something out of the keynote and workshops and it has given them some ideas and tools to further develop their insight into themselves and their students, particularly into how they impact on students and just as important, how students impact on them.

I am glad so many followed up the keynote and attended my workshop where they had the chance to use some of the self-reflection profiles on my website – http://www.whatmotivateslearning.com.

I am also pleased that so many colleagues expressed an interest in using the profiles to get feedback from students on their teaching styles, or from colleagues on their leadership styles. It would be encouraging if a group of staff could get together to develop and disseminate this practice. I would be delighted if the profiling tools became a regular part of the college landscape and helped make it an even more reflective culture.

Some staff have already contacted me to request the free resource of the Aspire Ring Programme for students. The programme supports the work of colleges in promoting students’ social, emotional and mental wellbeing and in the Developing the Young Work Force agenda. Its overall purpose is to prime young peoples’ readiness to aspire to learn. It provides a context for and follow up to the student online self-reflection profiles. It aims to help students to:

  • make sense of their personality, emotions and motives
  • grow their identity and choose their attitudes
  • learn how to balance their own needs with the needs of others
  • navigate classroom dynamics.

The key message is that our personality is given to us but our identity is something we construct ourselves. Identity and aspiration works in partnership. The programme focuses on students’ attitudes towards themselves and others which provide a window into their identity. Identity determines students’ futures through their preferences, choices and aspirations.  It is the personal compass that determines their long-term destinations. Positive destinations are built on a foundation of positive identities.  Supporting and challenging students in the search for their aspirations and the construction of a positive identity is the greatest service that colleges can provide. Appendices link the learning intentions with the Health and Wellbeing Experiences and Outcomes, and ‘I can’ Statements.

I left the College at the end of the day, exhausted but satisfied and hope to return.

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