The end of 2015/16

The school year, 2015/16, has finished and we are now in the holiday period awaiting the start of 2016/17.

Its been an interesting year for me, being my first year in a new position, that of Director of IT, plus my first year back in the UK after a 7 year absence while out in the UAE.

Firstly I think its important to note that I am shocked at how quickly the year has gone.   It feels like only yesterday that I boarded a plane from Dubai airport to return to the UK in order to undertake the interview for the position I now hold.    In reality that was a year ago.   Yet, it also feels like I have been in the UK the whole time without ever leaving.    An interesting sensation which highlights the confusion of memory.

The year has been very much about adapting to changes in my routines.   During my time in the UAE I had developed various routines around everything from the commute to work, to meetings, to professional development, etc.     The routines I had worked well within the specific context I was operating in including the individual schools and projects with which I was involved.    The change in context resulting from my new role and relocation has required changes to my routines and also some totally new routines as well as the abandonment of some routines which no longer serve their purpose.   These often little things have a big impact on life.

It has also been a year in which I have been aware of a greater sense of the unknown, the random and of variability.   While in the UAE I had a number of years experience and this helped to make everything seem familiar plus to provide baseline information to help with decision making.   It got to the point that decisions and actions felt almost natural and requiring little in the way of conscious effort.   Within my new role, everything is new and therefore I am less comfortable due to a lack of familiarity with how things work, as well as with the people concerned.   Everything requires conscious effort.   Thinking back I cant remember having the same feeling in the UAE however I suspect this is a trick of my memory, allowing me to recall the later period of my time in the UAE, but preventing me from remembering how things were in that opening year.

With all the changes I have to acknowledge also the similarities.    During my time in the UAE I had built up an image of what I will call the “UAE way of doing things”.    This image implies that things in the UAE are different than they are back in the UK.    In some ways they are however I viewed education in the UAE as also being different.    Having come back to the UK I am now more inclined to same that there are more commonalities than there are differences.    Curriculum change, staffing issues, workload and centralised inspection are issues which concern staff in both the UK and in the UAE.   The nature of the concerns may be slightly different in either context however the overarching issues are the same.     How do we get qualified, experienced and skilled staff?    How do we handle changes to qualifications and the curriculum?   How do we manage to meet all the accountability measures and enact all the latest initiatives while maintaining a work/life balance?  (Note: I always found working in the sun while sat by the pool as at least a partial solution to work/life in the UAE.)    How do we handle the pressure and expectations resulting from school inspections and how can we make sure inspection findings are fair?   I suspect these questions reappear the world over.

The question I find myself asking is what can I take away from the year;  what have I learned?

I think the key thing I have learned is that we are all very adaptable to change however we are equally set up to be adverse to it.     Change however can be a good thing.     I also realise that our memories are not as factual as we believe them to be.  As such my memories of the UAE, for example, focus mainly on the later years and the period in which I had become comfortable and not on those initial years where everything was new and different, and therefore more comparable to the year I have just had.   It is important to be aware of this fact and to consider the implications when presented with decisions which represent potential change.

horizon

2016/17 now looms on the horizon.   The challenge is to meet it head long and to work to ensure that it represents a “better” year than the one just passed.    “Onwards and upwards”, as I often find myself saying.

 

The culture of education

It is possible to examine and make judgments on the culture and climate of an organisation.   We can look at a macro view, looking at all companies within a particular employment sector or looking at similar organisations across a specified geographical area.   Equally we can take a micro view observing the specific culture and climate within departments or other sub-divisions within a particular organisation.

I have found myself repeatedly mentioning the importance of schools in general having an open culture and a positive climate.   My intention with such comments was specifically to address culture and climate at the organisational level, looking at each individual school as the whole unit however I have had cause to reflect on this and consider a more macro viewpoint.

What would the culture and climate of “schools” in general be?

What I mean by this, is that if we were to consider all the schools and all educational staff, including leaders, teachers and support staff, as the scope of analysis and as a single unit of study what would the culture and climate be.

The first issue I have with the above is the question is the evidence which is used in such a judgement.   Thinking about education and schools in general and the things which come to mind as possible evidence the various comments on social media including twitter, facebook and LinkedIn are first to stir in my conscious thoughts.    The television and printed news would also serve as evidence which is quick to present itself.     The issue I instantly have with this is that these are things which come easily to mind as they are most easily accessible in my memory, not that they are most representative of the truth, however my perception as directed by my memories is my truth.

As such my truth with regards how I perceive the culture and climate of schools in general could be shaped by the below:

Having read the above, how do you yourself feel about schools?

I don’t feel quite as negative as I possibly should based on the examples above and the many similar posts, articles and stories however this is due to being conscious of the fact that these items only way readily on my mind not due to be fact but due to just being readily available.    That they are readily available is partly related to the media and the need for a good story along with the tendency to report the extremes as opposed to the everyday, the more mundane and also the more representative.   This in turn leads to retweets and responses to articles which emphasise these reported extremes, in turn reinforcing stories like those mentioned above.

Could it be that we are in a cycle of negativity?

I hasten to add that I am not suggesting with the above question that all is perfect in the world of education and that we should stop moaning and get on with it, far from this.    Education the world over has many issues, with each individual country and education system with its own demons to wrestle.   Some countries are making better progress than others, and some other countries are suffering a quicker or lesser decline than their neighbours.   We need to address the issues in hand and this requires making them known and discussing them in a hope to find solutions.

But wouldn’t it be nice if in all of this teachers had at least a few thoughts which came easily to mind which were positive about the work we do.     Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a positive cycle of news relating to successes, ideas, etc.

As the 2015/16 year draws to a close wouldn’t it be nice to show the world that there is a culture of working to make things better, of positivity, of sharing, of openness………..hold on, would it be nice to show the world the face we show our students every day we are with them!

P.s. Following writing this I observed #teacher5aday and calls for tweachers to tweet thanks to other educators who have inspired them.

This and the resulting stream of thank you tweets flying around twitter is exactly the positivity that I was referring to above, and the kind of example which I would like to see come easily to mind among teachers and also the general public.   This is the culture and climate we want to seek to encourage.

 

 

Change

PathwaysThink of any change related project which you have been involved in and you will be able to appreciate the clear path between the starting point and the end point.   This is just how we remember things.

The reality of it is that hindsight prefers a distorted view of events.   During the change itself the path is not so linear, involving various changes in direction as a result of new found information, changing perceptions or other feedback gathered during the process of change

This has recently frustrated me with a project I have been engaged with, which had a clear pathway along which progress was being made with slight deviations and modifications being made along the way, but nothing substantial or at least this is how I envisaged things would progress.   Late in the year however it was decided to back away from the project and deliver a smaller pilot version of the original plan.    My initial reaction to this was to be disappointed and a little bit annoyed if I am being honest.   This move to a smaller pilot project represented a more significant change in direction and pace than anything I had considered.   It presented a significant deviation from the envisaged plan.

Looking back now, having distanced myself from my immediate emotions in relation to the project, I can now see that this big change in direction is just a factor of change and therefore should not be viewed as necessarily negative in context.   The direction of travel is still the same albeit the route is not as straight as I had originally thought it would be.

As such I will continue on with the now smaller project, as part of the project towards an ultimately planned more holistic implementation.   This recent change is not a set back back a small step on the journey towards the eventual goal of the project.

Tech and attention spans

child-and-tvI having recently given the impact of technology on attention spans in students a little bit of thought sparked by a comment made to me.   This led me to consider the question of “does technology have a negative impact on attention span in students” a little more thought and consideration.

For me one of the big benefits of technology is its ability to provide or support responsive feedback.    Computer games aim to provide users instant feedback as to whether they are doing well or poorly.   e-Mail aims to allow us to send a message to another user such that they will receive the message and be able to reply almost instantly as opposed to having to wait for snail mail to arrive.   In the class, students can complete quizzes and tests that provide instant feedback, or they can hand in assessments which the teacher can provide instant feedback on as opposed to having to wait for their next lesson together.

Hattie and Timperley (2007) state that feedback is “one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement”.   Technologies helps to facilitate this feedback, and therefore can be viewed as also being able to have a powerful influence on learning.

We live in a world of balance therefore it is important to recognize that the suggested advantages of technology use are not without consequence.   The use of technology and resultant instant or near instant feedback leads to a need for more feedback and therefore a lack of patience or acceptance for where it is not forthcoming.   This in turn is viewed as the inattention as implied in my opening paragraph.     Students may therefore appear less capable or less willing to take on longer activities where less feedback is forthcoming.

I wonder at this point as to the prolonged activities which we are required to do.    Research for example, can now be done more quickly through the use of google without the need to pore through a long list of research texts.   Also the feedback i have referred to which is beneficial relates to learning, however often longer tasks are about application or demonstration of learning as opposed to new learning, for example being able to write a report to prove understanding of the Data Protection Act.

As such we have a strength here in techs ability to provide quick or even immediate feedback with the benefits this can have for learning however we also have an associated weakness, being the tendancy for the tech and its associated feedback to make students dependent/expectant of immediate feedback and therefore prone to display a shorter attention span.

I would suggest the key lies in a balance between learning, involving technology and regular and frequent feedback, and demonstration and application of learning, involving more focused and substantial tasks where technology may or may not be involved.

Reflections on 6 months of 2016

It’s the end of June, and six months have passed since I set my resolutions for the year.    I must note and thank for pointing out we are ½ way through the year and time has passed that quickly that I hadn’t actually realized.

I think the first thing to acknowledge as I think back over the first half of the year is the speed with which time has passed.   This may very much relate to the fact that this year everything is pretty much new to me.   1 year ago I was still working across a number of schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, providing consultancy services and focusing on the IT infrastructure and #edtech within new schools being constructed.    Today I find myself back in the UK working within a single independent school.    The roles are very different.    The work required and people involved are very different.   And the climate is very different…….  Oh I wish for the sun again!!

Mid_East

Looking briefly over my targets I think I am doing quite well.    My blogging target for example was to blog twice per month however for the last couple of months as part of #44weeks I have been blogging at least weekly.   I have also started to try and share additional thoughts via pages on the blog on the books I have read and my favourite apps.

My twitter activity has very much gone through periods of ups and downs however it has always remained about my target of 1.9 tweets per day.   By the end of May I already had tweeted 900 times.

Late last year I achieved Google Certified Educator Level 1 status and the plan was to achieve Level 2.   This is one that I have made little progress on however there is time yet.   In addition I have applied to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert which hopefully I will achieve.   I am also in the process of working towards an IT professional qualification.    These two qualifications more than accommodate for the Google qualification and as such I am considering this target to be progressing well.

With regards my reading of one book per month I started very well however have trailed of a little in recent months.     This is very much due to other workload issues.   The target of 1 book per month continues to be the target I wish to work through however it may be that I will need to work hard on this during the summer holiday period.

As to my other targets I am making some progress in each one and therefore am happy at this stage in the year.   The one big area where I still need to make progress is that of fitness and physical activity which is still very limited.   I think I have the mental want to do this when I reflect but a lack of the motivation to actually get up and do something about it.     I also think that I am still adapting back to the UK after so many years as an Ex-Pat and that this is playing a part in my motivation.    It may be that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is playing its part and in being mindful about how I feel I can identify this as likely.     Having spent years with constant heat and sunshine, with brilliant sunrises being my normal drive to work, I would suggest it is little wonder that the UK weather is leading me to feel a little bit down which is therefore impacting on my motivation to undertaken physical activity especially where this activity might involve being outdoors.    I need to meet these feelings with a positive outlook if I am to address this area for development.

So its 6 months or half of the year done.    The specific targets identified at the start of the year are all well on their way to being achieved or are already achieved so the outlook focusing on these areas is highly positive.   The outlook on the bigger picture and the less tangible is less positive however this relates to the new situation I find myself in and the need to continue to adapt to this new context.     The challenge is to continue to remain positive and to take steps to build on the first 6 months of this year.    In 3 months time I will have completed a full year back in the UK.    I wonder what my reflections will be then, once everything is no longer new?