Mark Higgins (2020)

Now in its fifth year, the SMC Achievement Award is presented to someone who has made a special and sustained contribution to mathematics education in Scotland. The previous recipients were Adam McBride, Clive Chambers, Maureen McKenna and Brenda Harden. To these names we must now add that of Mark Higgins.

Mark rather stumbled into teaching when one of his lecturers at Strathclyde University, Adam McBride, pointed him in an unexpected direction. His career began in 1992 at St Leonard’s Secondary School but since 1997 he has been at Notre Dame High School, firstly as Assistant Principal Teacher and, for the last twenty years, as Principal Teacher. He was initially nominated for the SMC Achievement Award by his Quality Improvement Officer, a nomination subsequently endorsed by his head teacher and a number of colleagues, past and present, all of whom clearly hold him in very high regard. They describe him as a supportive and nurturing leader who is passionate about maths learning and teaching and has the ability to motivate and inspire both pupils and colleagues.

The former Chair of SMC, Chris Pritchard, worked with Mark on the Qualifications Design Team a few years ago and found him to be a great professional. In fact, it is as much for his work outside school in the wider community of mathematics teachers as for his leadership at Notre Dame that Mark was nominated. Not only did he do a 3-year stint as Teacher Fellow at Stirling University but he was also at Education Scotland for a while. And for the SQA, Mark has acted variously as a setter, marker, reviewer and team leader on courses from General Level to Higher.

In inviting Mark up to receive his award at the Stirling Conference, the SMC Chair, Carol Lyon, described him as hard-working, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and (quoting someone who knows him especially well), as extremely friendly and sociable, someone who not only ‘talks the talk’ and ‘walks the walk’ but ‘karaokes the karaoke!’ Indeed, ‘Mark puts the MARK in remarkable’.

In his acceptance speech, Mark Higgins reminded the packed lecture theatre of the responsibility mathematics teachers have day-to-day in their work with young people. His comments are worth quoting here.

I soon learned that I was part of a community of caring professionals who wanted the best for the young people in their care. I learned from my peers that teaching was indeed a craft but also that we had a responsibility to make a positive difference for our young people.

Just like in the Spiderman story, with great power comes great responsibility. Teachers all over the country have the power to make a positive difference to the young people, whether it is with their actions in class or the comments they share with them. If this is not a ‘superhero power’ then what is?