Reflections: doing what matters?

warhammerHave finally got around to sitting down to do a short review the past month, or in fact the past two months given I never actually managed to get around to reviewing September.

Firstly I would say that it is amazing how quickly the last two months have flown by.   Now I suspect this is very much due to the busy nature of the start of the new academic year.   This has clearly played a part in the fact I never got around to posting a reflection on September.

On a personal level October has been very important to me as it includes my eldest sons 21st birthday party.   I had missed his 18th as he had been in the UK while I was still living and working in the middle east and unable to get back for it.   As such it was important for me to take time out over the half term to be with him for his 21st and also to take in some football matches in the couple of days which followed the party.   I very much enjoyed actually sitting with him and watching a couple of games over a pint down the local pub, albeit the score of one particular game was not exactly in my favour.

The flip side to the above is that I never contributed to the half term #teacher5aday sketch as I had planned to.    I also contributed little in the way towards twitter over the period and my blog entries were a struggle.

I feel a tinge of regret in how I have let my contributions slide over the last month however it also worries me that I feel this way.   Surely something as important as a milestone in my sons life should take precedence over twitter and blog contributions?     This all makes me consider the issue of the limited amount of time we have available to us on a day, week, month or year and how I manage this finite resource.    Am I focusing on getting as many things done as possible or I am focussing on what is important?    The fact I feel that time has flown over the last two months suggests I have been busy however in being busy have I truly allowed my time to stop and think, to review and ensure that I am doing the right things, the important thing.  Come to that, for me, what actually is important?   Also if I stop doing some things due to them being of lesser importance, is it possible that by my narrowing of focus I may miss out on opportunities which only arise as a result of a broader focus?

I think this is something I need to reflect on in much more detail possibly including reviewing Coveys Seven Habits and First Things First books.     I may share some of my thoughts over the coming weeks but for now I am going to consider the X-Factor and a game of Warhammer with my youngest son to be what matters.


Smartphones in the class

music-playlist-2There have been lots of discussions about the pros and cons of using technology in lessons each looking at the issue for a different perspective.   Some people are positive about how technology can benefit students and their learning while others cite detrimental impact to student writing ability or concentration.

A recent post in the TES presented the issue of how smart phones in particular were contributing to sexual harassment incidents in schools.   You can read the full post here.   Within the post the general secretary of the ATL explains that she feels that in too many places, sexual harassment has become acceptable.   The author of the post goes on to raise how sexual harassment has always existed however it is the impact of technology and social media which has greatly increased the scale of the problem.

I fully agree with the authors comments with regards the importance of staffs well being and dignity however I disagree with the suggestion that the solution is for schools to “insist that pupils’ phones be left at the door”.      This would remove many learning opportunities which arise where students have access to a mobile device in lessons.   In addition by removing the phone it removes the opportunity for students to learn about what is right and appropriate when it comes to using mobile devices including the cameras which they come with.    Where students previously might have drawn inappropriate sketches of their teacher, did we ban the pencil?

I also disagree with the authors comment regarding how “schools cannot cure the ills of society”.    Schools are part of society and cannot operate independently of it.     Therefore I feel we as educators have a responsibility to make sure students learn about the appropriate use of technology, the risks and challenges so that they are equipped to be better members of society.    Stopping student smart phones at the school doors either prevents or at least limits the potential for this learning.   Students will still have smart phones so if they are inclined to take inappropriate photos they are still likely to do it, albeit being more creative about how they sneak their smart phone into class.     As such we have gained little but lost the opportunity to have a discussion with pupils about how they should use their smart phones in class, in school and in society as a whole.

We need to take care in where we arrive at decisions to try and block or ban certain technologies.    Technology is now pervasive throughout society.    The issue is whether technology is put to good or ill, and working with students so that they learn to be respectful and responsible users of the power put in their hands through technology.





Would we ban the pencil had it been a sketch.

Was going to tweet this however decided not as 140char not enough to fully elaborate on my thoughts on this.

Airports and runaway children

deptloungeI thought I would post something a little different today.   Around 2 years ago I started documenting some of my experiences from my UAE adventure as I like to refer to it, working as an educator in the UAE and other middle east countries for around 7 years.   This post is one of those experiences:

It was the winter of 2009 or in actually fact January the first when I made my way back from visiting my parents in Glasgow, back to my home in Preston, before boarding a plane at Manchester airport bound for the UAE.    My wife, myself and our two sons had packed up some of our house and sent it via sea to the UAE some weeks earlier, other belonging were sold, while the final pieces of furniture were transported by myself in a transit van for storage at my parents house for the eighteen months we would be away.    Speaking to my father just recently, my belongings still occupy the garage and at least one bedroom at my parents home some seven years after we left.   So much for eighteen months!

Having traveled back from Scotland early on the first of January, as a family we stopped off and had something to eat before taking the rented car, ourselves and our luggage to Manchester airport.   We arrived at the airport in the early afternoon well ahead of our flight, wanting to make sure that everything went as planned.    It was a good thing we had done so.

Generally the process of checking in went without incident and we quickly found ourselves going through airport security on the way to the departure lounge.   We had Andrew, who was two year old, out of his push chair standing beside us in order to allow the push chair to be collapsed ready to be fed through the metal detector.   The queue at the time was quite long as everyone looked to board the Abu Dhabi borne flight which clearly was full, including significant numbers of people going to work for the same company I was destined to work for although at the time I was unaware of this.   Guiding the queue was the usual snaking tape barrier which crisscrossed the room with the patient passengers slowly meandering towards the security stations.   We slowly made our way forward, every step bringing us closer to our UAE adventure.   Reflecting I am not sure whether I was nervous or excited, or maybe even a little scared.

As we reached the front of the queue the security officer on duty asked us to take off belts and other metal items, place them in a container and then feed this through the metal detector.    The now folded push chair also had to be fed through the metal detector.   As the push chair was placed on the conveyor belt leading to the metal detector the problems began.   Andrew became a little upset as his push chair disappeared into the scanning device.

“Mine!…Mine!…..” he shouted.

“Its ok….You’ll get it back in a minute” I soothed in the hope that he would calm down before everyone in the queue had our undivided attention.      It was at this point the security officer motioned towards Andrew who stood clinging on to me.    The officer instructed me that Andrews big warm coat would need to go through the metal detector.    I dutifully complied and unzipped Andrews coat and again he became upset.

“Mine!…Mine!…..” he shouted.

I helped his left arm out of his coat and went to repeat the task with his other arm at which point Andrew saw his chance and with one swift movement he spun around, spinning out of his open coat and breaking into a sprint, or maybe a fast toddle may be more accurate given he was only two at the time.

I at this point found myself standing in front of a security station and associated security officer holding a now empty child’s winter coat while its previous occupant made for the entrance and the check in area which we had passed through some time earlier.    After overcoming the initial shock of things I made off in hot pursuit although the escaping child standing at just over 1 foot in height, at best had a distinct advantage……A snaking tape barrier set at around two foot.   As such I set off in pursuit forced to take the long way around while my son took the much more direct route.    Onlookers were powerless, either due to shock, disbelief or more commonly due to uncontrollable laughter, as my son made his way to the exit.

Thankfully I was able to catch up with him and convince him to return to the security station, and eventually through the security station where he was happily met once more by his winter jacket and push chair.    Overall the plane journey which followed went off with minimal drama or fuss possibly due to Andrews few moments of exertion having made a break for it.    Some eight hours later we arrived in Abu Dhabi in the UAE and our planned eighteen month adventure began and some almost seven years later it still hadn’t ended!

Thoughts on social media

twitter-social-network-icon-vector_652139I have seen lots of excellent infographics with regards why teachers should make use of social media such as twitter.   This has got me thinking about the question of what we use social media for.

We use it to get access to new ideas, resources and perspectives.   This is the very much about access to and consumption of content.    Social media provides access to a wealth of individuals and the content which they are sharing via social media sites such as twitter, pinterest, personal blogs, etc.

We use social media to curate content of linked topic areas or subjects.   Using sites such as Storify and Paper.Li we can gather content together and re-share with others.    This is particularly useful where a twitter chat or other event has occurred and we want to create a record of the various comments which were made via social media as part of the chat or event.   This is the start of producing our own content, albeit this new content being nothing more than a collection of content produced by others.

We use social media to share our ideas.   This is very much about producing our own original content and sharing with others.

The above three activities were those that came first to my mind however I have recently been also considering a fourth area, being how we engage with others content, the content which we have read.   Through social media we can comment in shortened form via twitter, however we can also comment in a longer more detailed format via blogs, linking back to the blogs of others to which we are referring.

For me social media now occupies a key place in my work and in my ongoing professional learning.    The challenges in hand are very much about getting more of the teachers who currently consume content, to begin contributing content so that the content available becomes more representative of the teachers working in schools all over the world.    The other main challenge is encouraging those teachers who haven’t engaged with social media at all, who therefore are missing out on a wealth of ideas and resources.

I look forward sharing with you!

Sat Nav: Simply a tool or an extension of our being?

satnavI should know better after reading The Glass Cage (N.Carr, 2014) however it would appear that I have learnt little. The other morning took me to Bristol for a seminar. I had been to Bristol before so roughly knew the way there although did not know the area around where I was going plus didn’t know where I was going to park. That said I still managed to get to my destination albeit a little late due to traffic. The outward journey was not the one which caused me issue, this was the inward journey.
Having returned to my car after the seminar I dutifully turned on my Sat Nav and set the destination as the school following the turn by turn directions of the soothing voice emanating from the little black device sat on the passenger seat (note to self: I really should get a proper mounting bracket for the Sat Nav).   After a good 20 minutes I came notice that the return route was steeply uphill and that the road was not generally wide enough for two vehicles to pass. This was certainly not the same route I had gone to Bristol on. I became a little worried at this point yet as I crossed more major roads I still ceded to the Sat Nav voice and continued following its direction as opposed to following sign posts that pointed in other directions.
I realized I had become a passenger in own car even although I was the one doing the steering. The outcome was the same, in that I reached my destination, however the tool, my Sat Nav, had changed both the process and the experience. I did not experience the drive home as the driver of my car, in the same way as I did the outward journey, taking in my surroundings, the road layouts, the signs and the millstones or other location markers. I experienced it as a passenger. I followed instructions from the little voice from the seat beside me. I relinquished responsibility and control to the technology.
The question is, was the purpose of my journey just to get to a given location or was the journey itself important?
This is a question we need to constantly ask in relation to technology use. How does the technology change the process, the experience and even us as users? As Nicholas Carr puts it in The Glass Cage, we suffer from a substitution bias in that we just belief Sat Nav for example is just a substitution for a paper map however this is not the case. If I had have been navigating via a map I would have never have relinquished responsibility to a piece of paper not matter how nice it looked. I wouldn’t have anyone to blame but myself so I would be motivated to avoid a recurrence through greater preparation or a test run to my destination, as opposed to being able to distance myself from fault by locating blame within a small black box. I would also have learned from the experience in terms of my ability to navigate the route in future, something that has certainly not happened during my return leg from Bristol.
As I reflect I realize that maybe my description of technology as a “tool” for teachers to use may under present the impact of technology or even of tools. Again, as Mr Carr describes, a tool is an extension of ourselves as human beings and in being an extension it changes us as individuals, the processes and tasks we undertake and our experience of these activities. Maybe this is a subject which all educators should consider and maybe even something we should discuss with our students.

eMail, not another email!!

emailWe all love to use email as it allows for such easy communication.   I can communicate information to everyone in the school, or to a specific department or to an individual staff member at the touch of the Send button.   I can have a discussion with another member of staff without having to seek them out across campus and allowing for their timetable.   I can get a thought or question which arises in my mind down and fire it off for comment and the thoughts of others independent of time and the availability of the people I invite to comment.

Isnt email wonderful?

Email is convenient but with convenience comes a problem.   It is easy to send an email and consider the information communicated however it would be fairer to consider the information as just “sent”.    I tracked a recent global i sent including a newsletter to see how many people clicked the link within the email.   It turned out that only around 10% of people to which the email was sent actually went on to follow the link.    On a similar but more important email this number increased to around 20% however that still represents a minority response.

It is also convenient to send emails at all times including weekends and evenings however does this come with the expectation that the person will read and action at midnight on a Friday?    Would we pick up the phone in the absence of email at midnight on a Friday to convey the same information?

Convenience also steps in with regards who we send our emails to.   We wouldn’t stand up and announce some information at school briefing or via the PA system however due to the convenience of distribution groups we feel it is acceptable to send via email to everyone.   We also adopt a just in case mentality so rather than sending to the department and a couple of other users we might send to the whole school as it may be useful to everyone.

Email is also a one way communication system however it is often treated as two way in the same way as a phone call.   The difference is that in a phone call you can stop someone mid way and ask for clarification.   You can question what a person means.   In an email the person reading the email has to interpret the content with no additional guidance from the sender.  Even if they send an email back to ask for clarification the originator of the message has to interpret the clarification request.   As such email chains are so very open to misunderstanding and in some occasions to fiery exchanges.   I have noted a number of instances in email table tennis during my career and am ashamed to admit that I have on a small number of occasions been party to the exchanges.

Email like most technologies has its advantages however we live in a world of balance and therefore there are also some drawbacks.  Users need to be aware of these drawbacks and conscious of their use of the technology and its implications.

My main tips for email would be:

  • Consider is email correct:  Consider what you want to communicate and if there will be any need for discussion.  If discussion is needed then maybe its time to pick up the phone or arrange a meeting.
  • Consider email info as sent but not communicated:   Realize that not every email is actually read and therefore if the info is critical some sort of checking or follow up will be required.
  • Use delayed send:   In outlook you can set when you want an email to be sent at some point in the future so you can write your email now or at midnight however schedule it to send on Monday morning at a more reasonable hour.
  • Consider who you need to send to:  Avoid using the whole school global distribution group unless it is an emergency.   Try to send to the smallest group possible rather than using the scatter gun approach, and create your own groups in Outlook in order to help you manage this.

I don’t see email going anywhere however we need to manage its use better.   To do this it is about every individual thinking more about the cost of their convenience.