Pledges for 2023

In thinking about the pledges for the coming year I think I need to include an equal share of big picture, more strategic aims, alongside some more measurable smaller targets.   I think this should provide a balance between things which will be easier to assess in terms of achievement at the end of the year, alongside aims which are much broader, more challenging but also equally more difficult to evaluate come the end of the year.

So lets get into my pledges for 2023…..

Podcast

I last did some short podcast episodes in 2021 with a plan to build on this in 2022 however other priorities meant this didn’t happen.   It is definitely something I want to progress and something I have been in discussion with a colleague about, however have so far not managed to progress.    For 2023 it would be good to get maybe 2 seasons of podcasts produced and shared, with hopefully at least 6 or 8 episodes in each.    My thinking would be focus on cyber security, digital citizenship, data protection and technology in schools as the key themes of the podcasts.

Time management

The last few years have felt as if time has been flying by, with weeks, months, terms and years flying by in what seems like the blink of an eye.   I think therefore, in the year ahead, I want to look at how I manage time particularly trying to ensure I allocate specific time for reading, for exercise, for relaxing, etc, building up appropriate habits in relation to how I use the finite time available in each day, week, month and year.    Part of this will likely start with some long term initial planning at the start of the year in January.   My hope is that through better planning of my time I will be more satisfied with how it is used, but also will achieve a better balance between being busy and relaxing.   

Also related to this, especially at home, I need to let and encourage others to contribute rather than trying to take things on myself.  More delegation should hopefully allow me to achieve more or at the very least focus on things which are more important or where my efforts add the most value.

Running

I would again like to keep up my running in 2023 however with more consistency.  As such am thinking a minimum of 50km per month, which would equate to 600km for the year as a minimum.   I would also like to very much achieve at least one 10km run every two months, so meaning I should have completed six 10km runs by the end of the year.   Now it would be good to achieve more however I am also concious of avoiding pushing my exercise too much.    From a weight point of view I want to try and keep my weight around the 84kg mark, which was always part of my aim in terms of regular running.

Reading

Having struggled with reading in 2022 I would like to again stick with trying to read 6 non-fictions books by the end of the year.  This equates to one book every two months which I think should be achievable.    I already have a number of books purchased ready to read.   I will share some info on some of the titles in a future post.

Bigger picture

The last couple of years I have worked hard on maintaining a to-do list however I feel this may have led to me focussing on things at a micro and small scale, and in focusing there I have taken my eye of the bigger picture.     As such, in the year ahead, I need to spend more time looking at the bigger picture, at strategic tasks and aims over the smaller day to day tasks.    Part of this will be rolling up the regular day to day tasks which currently exist as separate tasks to achieve and considering them as a singular grouped task, taking the small tasks each day and bundling them up as routine single task.   Equally I will need to establish the more strategic projects, tasks and aims that I want to look at possibly either on a monthly or termly basis.  

Holidays and Experiences

I would like to ensure I create some new memories, particularly family ones in 2023.    There are clear opportunities over the summer holiday period, easter holiday period and also key points in the year such as my birthday, wedding anniversary, etc.   I need to make sure that I make the most of each of these opportunities.   I think it will also be important to take photos as a record of events so I have something to look back on and refer to.     Linked to this, I think it will also be important to continue journalling and keeping records of achievements, etc, on a week by week basis, again so that I have something to refer back to in being able to more effectively and accurately reflect on the year once I get to the end of it.   Part of me wonders about having achievements and challenges as part of my journal template so that it makes me stop and think, plus take note as I regularly seek to journal my thoughts and feelings.

Contributions to the wider Edu and Tech communities

I would very much like to see me building on 2022 in 2023 including continuing to contribute to other organisations, podcasts, blogs, magazines, etc with my thoughts and ideas.    It has been very enjoyable and at times challenging to do this in 2022 however I have definitely considered it to be worthwhile so it is clearly something I want to continue.    I would be particularly good to be involved in some bigger conferences if possible and even in some international events however this will be dependent on logistics, etc.     It will also be useful to explore the potential for new opportunities and challenges so this needs to be something I keep my eyes open for as 2023 progresses.

I have considered personal studying a certification as an option for 2023 however had decided that the cost v benefit especially of the technical certifications I have been looking at is not sufficient to justify the time, effort and cost.   This may however be something for me to reconsider as the year progresses.

Work

In work I cannot think of a particular target or focus in 2023 however if there was to be something it is in relation to innovation and change.   I would like to be able to focus on innovation and change projects and hopefully creating a culture and appropriate support functions which encourage and promotes this.   Other than this, I hope to support the members of my team to grow and develop such that they are able to continue to feel engaged, challenged and also to better contribute to the school.

Conclusion

In work I often use a single word or phrase as a theme or focus.   I think this might also be useful in setting my pledges for 2023.  So what one word or phrase would summarise what I want to achieve:

              New opportunities and experiences

I think the above summarises what I want from 2023.   2022 has felt a little routine, albeit with some notable achievements and positive points, but I just don’t feel there were enough truly memorable moments mainly as our memory needs the unusual and the new.   So in 2023 I hope to try and find and achieve the unusual and new.   Here’s to 2023 and the year ahead.   

And happy new year and all the best for 2023 to all in my PLN.

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Reflections on 2022

We are at the end of yet another year, and this time, the end of 2022 so its time to briefly blog a bit of a reflection on my year. The easiest place to start in reviewing the year is the pledges I made at the beginning of 2022.

Exercise and Health

2022 saw me once again reach 750km of running for the year however it saw me much more inconsistent than I had been in 2021.   Although I managed to run over 100km in each of 4 months, more than I had managed before, I also had some months where I achieved very little distance at all.   In terms of distance, I did finally manage to achieve a couple of 10km runs although these runs were rather broken and slow.     My speed over the whole period continued to be rather slow, being on average 6:21 min/km whereas I would have very much likely to have been closer to the 6-minute mark.  That said, throughout my years running my focus was always on achieving the distances regularly rather than on building up my speed.    Towards the end of the year, I did start to suffer some joint and muscle pains so decided to rest from mid-December onwards to allow me to then look to restart in 2023.

I suggested at the start of 2022 that another health related plan was to reduce my alcohol intake.  Sadly, this didn’t really happen and the idea of a “dry” month certainly never looked like happening.   Now, I enjoy a beer especially when watching the football or a good film, plus it is one of the few vices I believe I have so I am not too disappointed on failing to meet this pledge.   It is important to balance trying to achieve things, to work hard, etc, with also having a bit of fun.  I suspect my alcohol intake is overall slightly less than in 2021 although I don’t have any really evidence to support this, so this may simply be me justifying not doing more.

Another area of health which didn’t work out in 2022 related to dental accidents with a number of accidents during 2022 resulting in dental treatment which I find difficult, and that’s even before, as a Scotsman, I get to having to pay for it!

I also note that as I finished work in December I fell ill with a bit of a flu (not covid!).  Upon looking back to 2021 the same issue had occurred with illness in December.   I wonder if this is me simply pushing too hard and failing to consider my health, then as the term and year ends and I relax, the strain on my body catches up with me, manifesting in illness.  Maybe something to think about next year in ensuring I take care of myself as term ends in order to hopefully avoid a period of illness over the festive season.

Wellbeing /Happy memories

Sitting here writing this things don’t quickly come to mind although a family holiday abroad, our first since the pandemic does come to mind and was enjoyable.  I also thoroughly enjoyed a trip with my wife as part of our anniversary which saw us spend a few days in London together, even taking in a stage show and seeing a number of historic sites around London.   There are also a number of other significant memories created during the course of 2022 however I will not go on to list these here.  So this is all positive.

I think part of the issue here is that I maybe don’t have a great long term memory and therefore find it difficult to quickly reflect.   To that end I started noting things, achievements, etc, starting in March 2022 to help me with this.    Reviewing this it seems clear a vast majority of the notable things from 2022 relate to either my job or to the wider education and technology sectors in which I work rather than to personal or family related things.  This is something I need to think a bit more on in terms of my work/life balance and whether it is a balance I am happy with.

One memory I will have for 2022 will definitely be turning up to the Houses of Parliament to attend a morning meeting, but sadly attending on the wrong day, a day to early, followed by feeling ill and not being able to attend the event on the correct day.  Ooops.

Reading

I didn’t read quite as much as intended or would have liked during the course of the year.   I think I maybe managed 6 or 7 books rather than my normal 12 books although I did start to read some fiction in addition to my non-fiction, enjoying re-reading Frank Herbert’s Dune and also a number of HP Lovecraft short stories.    The issue was generally one of time and priorities with reading sitting with a reasonably low priority.  This was however helped by the various conference and other events I attended which required train travel, thereby providing me with an opportunity to catch up on reading.

Contributing

This is likely the area where I think I did best during 2022.   I had opportunities to contribute to several different education and technology conferences or other events as a speaker, panellist, or guest while also developing a number of different bits of content for various organisations.   There were also many brilliant opportunities to network and catch up with colleagues from across the UK including the ANME ambassadors, Bukky Yusuf, Mark Anderson, Al Kingsley, Olly Lewis, Abid Patel and Emma Darcy to name but a few.  The fact that Abid Patel presented me with a can of my favourite Bru (intentional spelling) at an event being a particular highlight.   I was also both surprised but also very pleased to be nominated for Network Manager of the Year as part of the EduFuturist awards for 2022.  This was definitely not something I had expected or even hoped for.    As such am not sure I could have achieved much more that I did in 2022.    Here’s hoping for the same kind of opportunities in 2023.

Work

I think the year in work went well with the fact I have began to take notes of achievements being a useful aide-mémoire to help in assessing this.   When I addressed my team before the school broke up for Christmas it was good to be able to go back to the summer holidays and the beginning of term and list off some of the many things we have done, introduced or changed during the course of a single term, where had I not noted these down they may have simply slipped from memory.  

Other achievements

2022 once again saw me take on an external accreditation in ISC2s Certified in Cybersecurity.   It had been a number of years since I had last needed to take on a proper exam so I was a little nervous.   As it turned out a lot of the content overlapped with some of the other accreditations I already held and as such I didn’t find the exam to be that challenging but was still happy to achieve confirmation of my achievement of the certification.

Conclusion

2022 was a busy year and I think I crammed quite a bit into it.   I think one of my issues is that I seek that single highly significant and memorable event where this just didn’t happen in 2022, or indeed in a number of the preceding years.    This may detract from the many lesser events and achievements I did reach in 2022 and hence leave me feeling a little depressed or under appreciative of what I did achieve.   For 2023 I need to get passed this and be more positive and appreciative of that which I can and do achieve.

And so with my quick review of 2022 out of the way, it is onwards to 2023.   I want to try and treat 2023 as a fresh start and new year so hopefully be able to look back, around a year from now, and find my reflections on 2023 are not merely a repeat of those from 2022.    My next blog post will therefore focus on pledges for 2023 and how I might bring about the change I would like to see.

Connected isolation?

How is it that social media allows us to be hyper connected yet we can still feel so much individual isolation?

I found myself wondering this ahead of the schools and academies show sat having something to eat on my own, while tweeting and otherwise engaging with individuals from all over the world via social media.     Isnt connection a key feature of social media in allowing us to have large “friends” groups which we can access even when geographically apart?    Shouldn’t I therefore have felt connected rather than isolated as I sat there?

A broadcast medium

One possible reason for my feeling of isolation may be the fact that todays social media is very much a broadcast medium.   We post outwards on twitter, we post outwards of Facebook, on TikTok and on other social media platforms.  They are no longer a simple extension of our “in-real life” connections, our friends and our families.   We hope that someone will reply and engage with what we have posted, or at least will provide a like, however this is a hope rather than an expectation.   So maybe the isolation therefore relates to the fact that my social media engagement amounts to throwing out posts and updates in much the same way a message in a bottle is cast into the sea in the hope that someone may read it.    It isn’t the two way conversation and engagement, the “social” experience which it pretends to be.

The human animal

This brings us nicely to another possible explanation being how we as humans have been conditioned through centuries of evolution to behave and respond.   We are used to smallish social groups rather than the 1000’s of followers we may achieve on social media.    Could it be that the we don’t have the same connection online with the 1000s we send our posts out towards, at least not to the same extent we might have a connection with the stranger we bump into and have a drink with in the pub? I will admit to having a conversation earlier in the day with a stranger in a busy pub and that this was engaging and enjoyable, and made me feel connected.

We are used to the social experience of face to face interactions, of getting verbal, facial and other non-verbal ques in our interactions with people.     We have a physiological response to the presence and interaction with those we know and like, while we have a different physiological response with those we don’t get on with.    Am not sure, however I suspect there may equally be a physiological response when interacting with people online however I suspect in some ways it may be a lesser response although I will also acknowledge in some cases the response may be greater or even extreme, spurred on by the safety of being a keyboard warrior distanced from any physical risk which could arise through face to face arguments.   I would suggest though, if we take the extreme cases out of the equation the average physiological response to online interactions is less than that for face to face interactions.  And so it may be that the online interactions feel a little numb when compared with face to face interactions.

Conclusion: An illusion of connection but not a very good one

The above is simply a little musing.   I have made some great connections with some great people via social media so as a vehicle towards face to face connections it is invaluable.    But does the supposed “social” nature of social media, the 1000s of online connections, make us think we are more connected than we end up feeling?    And if so, does the difference between how connected we think we are versus how connected we feel lead to a greater feeling of isolation?   Is the feeling of isolation a response or a result of this disparity?

If I was to draw any sort of conclusion I think it would be this;   For me, I am happiest when engaged in conversation in person even where with strangers.   Social media presents an illusion of connection and not a very good one, but this illusion can impact on us.    I think that is why I felt isolated as I sat there.   The solution, to stop engaging in social media in hope of a connection and to spark up a conversation with someone, to do what we as humans have been doing for centuries and engage with a fellow human being in a face to face conversation where I can actually feel properly connected.

Feeling down

Have been trying to post a blog once a week but missed out last week having found things a bit of a struggle.    The end of term was manic, as I suspect it was in many schools across the UK and across the world.    I was extremely busy finding myself trying to balance a multitude of different tasks and projects.   Additionally, I was working on my personal fitness trying to complete 100km of running during October, having failed to do so during September due to a cold which had stopped me running for most of the final week. 

And so the half term arrived and my energy levels suddenly plummeted.  Exhaustion, or at least that’s what I now believe it was, kicked in.    I managed to drag myself out for a 10km run last Saturday albeit it was very broken and particularly slow however after this my energy was spent.   I suddenly found myself with little energy and little motivation to undertake a variety of personal tasks and projects, as well as work related tasks.  In fact, I found myself with little energy to undertake much at all. 

Sunday arrived and I found myself depressed.   Part of this was due to my low energy levels, and my inability to getting moving forward on things while another part was related to the fact that Saturday, and an opportunity to undertake personal tasks and achieve something, had came and went with little to nothing achieved.  The fact I couldn’t focus sufficiently to get a blog put together only added to way I was feeling and to my worsening outlook.

Monday was little better.   I had plans for a run.   My plan revolves around 4 runs per week of 6km each if I am to achieve my 100km, with my runs normally Monday, Wednesday and then Friday and Saturday.   The Monday run never happened as I couldn’t motivate myself to get up and out in the morning, with the same issue on the Tuesday.   And this lack of progress, despite my plan, further put a dampener on my mood.   

It wasnt until mid week before I was able to work to correct my mood and pull myself out of the depressive cycle which was building.   I knuckled down despite how I felt and a number of successive work tasks completed including a couple which provided a bit of satisfaction all helped to improve how I felt and my outlook.

Its Friday now and I sit on a train on the way home from a trip to London.   I feel significantly better than I did at the start of this week, but the events of the last week highlight how variable my mood and feelings can be.   When I look back a year or more my sense is that my mood is reasonably level however this is the illusion of memory;   the reality is my mood is very variable.   The challenge for me is to find ways to manage this.   This time it was putting my head down and working but I doubt that will always work.   The question then is how can I prepare and identify coping strategies for should my motivation and outlook “tank” at some point in the future.   I also think on reflection I have grown to be good at managing lots of task and managing being busy, but not so good or happy when it comes to down time, to sitting relaxing watching TV or reading a book.   Although I know these are important acts in allowing me to decompress, relax and recover, it doesn’t feel productive and therefore leads to feelings of depression.   Thinking about it, I can see why this might happy given a normal workday might see 10 or 12 items ticked of a to do list, whereas sitting through 10 episodes of binge-watch TV does quite compare in terms of a feeling of achievement.

Am not sure if this post will resonate with others but thought I would share anyway as maybe it will help others, or maybe it will just help me at some point in the future, as a reminder that things are more chaotic and variable than we remember, but that in the end most things work out. I suspect we could all do better in being aware of our mood and feelings, and seeking to better manage them.

Some future tech thoughts

Recently have been trying to put some time aside to think about long term strategy rather than the more mundane day to day.   I have been trying to look out into the future and maybe the next 10 to 15 years of technology in schools.   In doing so I have identified 4 themes or areas which I believe we should be focussing on.

Sustainable, safe and secure

This is likely the easiest theme to identify.  If we assume that tech use is only going to grow as we progress into the future then we need to ensure that “it just works”.   This is key and is part of the sustainability challenge.   If technology has issues or problems, users, both students and teachers alike, will quickly turn away from it.   As a result we need to make sure the technologies used including the infrastructure such as Wi-Fi, internet bandwidth and our IT networks, are future proof and include plans for replacement and renewal as we move forward into the future.   Purchases of infrastructure such as wireless access points, network switches and also the client end points all need to be viewed as continual investments, with planned replacement built in rather than one-off costs.  Our plans need to ensure our technology and infrastructure is sustainable into the future

Also, in relation to sustainability we need to start considering environmental impact.   We need to consider who we source our equipment from, how it is produced, how it is delivered and where it goes once it is end of life.   We also need to consider the environmental impact of its use including energy usage for example.   As we move forward into the future, I can see the importance of environmental sustainability continuing to grow and become a greater factor in decision making.

And as we work in schools, the safety and security of the technologies we use, the data we process and the end users, both staff and students, continues to be a critical issue.    We will need to do a better job of assessing the security of products and solutions we use to ensure we keep our data and our users safe and secure.

Digital citizens

Related to the above, how we seek to keep our students safe in this digital world, online and on social media will be a key focus balanced out against the challenges presented by the need for individual privacy and freedom of speech.    There will also be challenges in relation to increasing use of automation and AI including the ethics of categorising and targeting individuals and groups through data and the implications of black box AI solutions making decisions about aspects of our lives, where although we may be able to create a narrative for the decision in hindsight we may never actually know exactly how the AI arrived at it.  And these are just of couple of the many challenges.

All of this highlights the need to develop digital citizens in our staff and students, plus also our wider communities including parents.   Lots of the benefits and risks created through technology and technology use are new, and have never existed in history, therefore we will need to work through them together.    We will need to create the culture and climate to support the open discussion and dialogue in relation to technology and its implications, and we will need to continually update and review our awareness and our understanding.   This will be critically important but sadly, far from easy and far from quick.

Emerging technologies

The pace of technology continues to be quick with new solutions appearing regularly.   It is therefore important to keep one eye on the future.    Looking forward now I see a number of areas which school should be thinking about including the potential for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality use within schools.  Some schools are already dipping into this but I see bigger untapped potential which is yet to be realised.    Haptics and wearable technologies are another area where there may be potential within schools.   Some potential applications are clear, such as the use of fitness solutions like Fitbit, etc, in relation to physical education or even biology in schools; other future solutions or applications are as yet not as clear.    Artificial intelligence is another emerging area, although I note many EdTech vendors already shouting from the hills about how they use AI, something I am largely sceptical about;  I suspect many are mistaking a complex series of If..Then..Else for AI.   That said, as we move forward I suspect more applications for AI will become apparent, particularly applications for narrow focus AI solutions designed for a specific purpose rather than the more aspirational general purpose AI of Hal from Space 2001 or Data from Star Trek.  And online examinations using adaptive testing solutions replacing our paper based examinations is another emerging area I see in our future.   How will we ensure school infrastructure supports these tests and how can we prepare students for this new age of assessment?

The power of data

Schools already gather huge amounts of data and this is only growing.   I am not just talking about the data teachers may enter in school management solutions as part of parental reporting processes.   We now have data generated in terms of student interactions with online platforms, such as Google Classroom or MS Teams, we have online quizzes where we might be able to see not only student scores, but the time taken, the device used, the time per question, if answers were changed, etc.   Every time we interact with technology more data is being created.    The question looking forward therefore is how can we use this data?   How can we create value from this data and inform teaching and learning?    This for me is a key opportunity as we look forward to the future.  Again though, not an easy one, as the data is often siloed in different solutions or is unstructured or poorly structured.   There is a lot of work to be done here but for me the potential is clear.

Conclusion

The above four areas are what I see as the key areas of focus for the future.   There are many other areas which could be considered however these four, in my opinion, represent the greatest importance and/or potential in relation to schools and colleges.  

Some of the above will see progress in the short term, however I suspect some wont see much progress for a number of years.   The importance here though is in setting a direction of travel.

Compliance and training

In schools we have a fair number of “compliance” matters which we need to deal with especially around training.   Safeguarding including Online safety, Data Protection and Health and Safety to name but a few.   But sometimes I wonder whether we sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees.    I wonder if sometimes we become that focussed on the compliance measure that we may lose sight of the reason the compliance requirements are there in the first place.

Let us take data protection as an example.   We must comply with the legislation and as part of this we need to make sure that staff have received the relevant training.   So, the compliance measure is to ensure that staff have had training.    So, we attack this requirement with an annual training session likely a short session within inset at the start of the new academic year.    If we do this correctly, we will have a nice register of all the attendees at the session, which will match the list of staff, thereby showing all staff have been “trained” and we are compliant.

But why do we have the training?    The training is not the outcome or objective, it is the vehicle.   What we are really trying to achieve is that staff understand data protection, understand what they should and should not be doing with data and what to do when things go wrong.   So, taking my compliance to the next level (is there such a thing?   Do I not comply or not comply?   Maybe a separate question!) I now want to check understanding.   So, I send all staff a quiz to answer based on some of the content of the training.    If most, let’s say 80% of staff, get the answers correct I am happy that the training has developed the understanding I seek.  If the score is less, then I need to review the training materials and amend accordingly.

But again, this has flaws.   Is a quiz sent out after the training a good measure of understanding?   Or is it just a test of short-term memory where staff who may score well immediately after the training, will have forgotten most of the information two or three weeks down the line?   At this point I may revise my compliance measure again, releasing different short quizzes at the end of each term to get a better view for how the understanding is retained over time.

At this stage I may decide that the single training session isnt enough, as I want to go beyond basic understanding and look to change the culture in relation to data protection.   I am now looking at a multi-modal approach with a big training session, maybe weekly short facts, termly quizzes, smaller training sessions with targeted departments, on-demand video training, etc.  In looking to change the culture I am clear that this will involve lots of little changes and activities now and over a longer period of time although the prevailing culture is unlikely to show any signs of change until some time in the future.   I am accepting that changing culture is the long game.

Conclusion

The issue with all of the above is that I feel we often get stuck at the top, at the simple measure of the number of people who attended an annual training session.   I don’t feel we always question and explore our compliance.  I don’t feel we go beyond the simple and easy to measure.   

What if, in accepting the need to comply with training, we accept that our complex approach of briefings, training sessions, standing agenda items, etc forms the training and that this is better than a one-off training session, even with a quiz.   In doing so we can demonstrate training through details of our approach and evidence to support each part of it; We can provide copies of briefings, PowerPoints from presentations, meeting minutes, etc.    Isn’t this enough to prove compliance should a relevant authority ask for such proof?   Yes, we won’t be able to provide a nice simple list of all staff having signed attendance at an annual training session, but was that ever the point?

A new academic year

And so a new academic year begins.  The students are back and the school is once again buzzing with activity at the start of the usually hyper busy first term.  As the autumn term and the new academic year begins I thought I might share some of my plans for the weeks and months ahead.

Data

This is definitely one of my projects for the year ahead, looking at how we as a school might better store, process and present data.   The key for me is the use of Microsoft PowerBi in order to allow data to be easily explored by end users, in a way that is more user friendly and intuitive than a large complex spreadsheet.   Now a key here, and likely the hardest part of the process is ensuring the data is appropriately structured, and in the resultant need to clean up existing data ahead of then starting to analysis it.

Embedding technology

I would like to spend more time with teachers using technology in the classroom this year.   I have become a little disconnected from this in the last year as I focussed on the infrastructure, systems, cyber security, etc.   As such it would be good to spend time with those teaching diverse and different subjects, to allow me to review and evaluate my thoughts and practices in relation to teaching.    Hopefully, it will also allow me to identify areas where I can help and support technology use, especially where technology can make things easier, quicker, more effective or generally better for teachers and students.

Digital Citizenship

This is a particularly important topic in my view, in the need to discuss the risks and benefits of the internet, technology, social media, etc.    We don’t truly know the long term impact of the technologies we are using today, in particular the impact of social media, so in the absence of an answer, we need to at least promote discussion.    One of the challenges here is finding time within the busy school curriculum for this to happen in a way that goes beyond the often superficial discussions which currently happen.    It is my hope to work with students this year in discussing digital citizenship, plus also possibly to look at developing some content which can be used across schools.

Virtual Reality

Now this is a bit of an experimental project, looking at how VR kit might be used more within schools and also hopefully examining how schools can create their own VR content.    For me this ability to work within VR and to create your own VR content is key as otherwise you are reliant on the content of others, such as the VR hardware vendors.   Over the years I have seen a number of technologies fail to live up to their promises where they are reliant on content created by the vendor or third parties.

Running

I was doing well in May, June and July, managing to run 300km however this fell to near zero in August so as the new academic year begins I hope to pick up where I left up.   Given I am at 500km for the year so far, it would be good to get to at least 750km for the year so that means I have 4 months to achieve 250km, so that’s around 65km per month.

Conclusion

Now the above are only 5 areas which jump to mind for the year ahead.   The board in my office has many post-it notes relating to projects and tasks which I will be addressing in the year ahead.

I look forward to it being another busy, challenging but worthwhile academic year.    All that remains is for me to wish everyone all the very best for the 2022/23 academic year.   Onwards and upwards….

The Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert programme

We are approaching the end of August, which is when the new Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts (MIEE) are normally announced.   I am looking forward to hopefully continuing as an MIEE for what will be my seventh year as an MIEE.   I note I am also a Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE), although I did my MCE before I got my MIEE status, although normally the route is the other way round.  So why is the MIEE status useful?

Recognition and Applications

I think the first thing to say is that it isnt the status that is useful although it is always nice to have a little pin badge and recognition.    The most important feature of the MIEE programme is the community.    I often use the phrase “the smartest person in the room, is the room” and if we take this as true, the combined experience and knowledge of MIEEs across the world is huge, backed up by various opportunities to share, discuss and collaborate.

As to the application process, this isn’t a massive effort as if you are already using technology in school, you will likely already have evidence to support any application, therefore meaning all that is required is 30mins to an hour to actually do the application itself.

Tweetmeets and Sharing internationally

Through my MIEE status I have had the opportunity to take part in tweetmeets, being part of a team of educators from across the world leading the discussion on twitter on a variety of different educational technology topics.   I have found these opportunities very useful as they allow you to share thoughts and ideas with educators from different contexts including different school types, age ranges, nations with differing education systems, differing values and cultures, and different access to technology resources.   And it is this broad sharing that I believe is the biggest benefits of the programme.   I believe the more I appreciate how education differs, and also is the same in schools and classrooms across the world, the better my understanding of education, teaching and learning, and the better I can be in supporting the use of technology in schools.

I have also had the opportunity to collaborate directly with educators in other countries as a result of the MIEE programme.  This includes working with a teacher in Saudi Arabia as a guest native English speaker to assist his students in their English language studies, plus discussing professional development with educators from Azerbaijan.   Again, I believe these experiences enhance my understanding.

Connection Calls and Face to face events

As part of the MIEE there are also the regular connection calls where latest updates on Microsoft solutions are shared, where efforts of MIEEs are celebrated and where resources and ideas are openly shared.     And there are also the face to face events, such as the MIEE gatherings at the BETT conference where you get to meet in person those individuals who previously you had only seen on a connection call teams video call.     Sadly I have missed out on the BETT meetup over the past couple of years although this is something I hope to address in 2023.

Conclusion

The Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert programme is excellent in providing access to a wide range of educators, to info on development of the Microsoft suite of products, to resources and the thoughts and ideas of educators from across the UK and the world.  

And with that I now await this years announcement and hopefully beginning my seventh year as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Work/Life Balance

I recently went on holiday abroad, taking my phone complete with school email with me.   This is one of the reasons I havent posted anything new over the last few weeks. While away I checked my email occasionally plus replied to several emails.   This got me thinking, was what I was doing wrong from a health and wellbeing point of view?

I have previously read various people writing about the need to establish a work/life balance with email often making an appearance among the discussion.    The discussion often including tales of notifications being received late into the night, or emails requiring urgent action before Monday morning being received on weekends.    Some have suggested schools should block or prevent the sending of emails in the evenings or at weekends or have suggested that teachers shouldn’t add their school email account to personal phones, adding it only on work issued phones.   

I did have a school phone for a period of time, carrying two phones, one for personal use and one for school use.   A number of years ago I handed back my school phone as having two phones added complexity and inconvenience. E.g., Having to decide which phone to use or which phone to answer? Deciding which apps were on which phone, etc. I also didn’t see the point of the school paying for a service and device while I was carrying a personal device which could happily meet all of my work requirements.    This was a personal decision and I note that I considered the data protection implications in making the decision.  For me it is also acknowledgement that I am not two people, a personal and a professional me, but am instead a single person with two linked aspects to my life, my personal and my professional life.  

The distinction between personal and professional lives is often made, for example on social media in having separate personal and professional accounts.    I have difficulty with this.   If I post something inappropriate or at least contentious on my personal account, it is all too easy to link that with my professional account and therefore my school, so what is the point in having the added difficulty of managing two separate accounts?    In the real world my professionalism can be held to account for my actions during my down, or personal time, and I cant then say “but that was my personal account” so why should social media be different?    Now there are some data protection implications here however that’s a whole other post.   Let’s for now leave that issue with the fact, if I had a separate professional account, it would identify as being me in my role as opposed to belonging to the role, an organisational unit within the school or the school itself.   As such the account would still be, to an extent, personal to me, which only adds to view that maintaining separate personal and professional accounts adds no value.

But why did I answer my emails and basically do some work when I was on holiday?    I think part of the answer lies with the fact I am quite poor at resting.   I feel at my best with a to-do list and ticking things off.    I also feel invested, enjoyment and empowerment in my role.   It is a key and important part of my life so to dip into emails for a few minutes and pick off a few tasks felt more appropriate than leaving them for a week until I returned to work.    It was a personal decision.    And in making the decision I was happy to spend a few minutes on email however I was equally happy to leave a number of emails alone, to await my return to work.    If work/life balance is what I need to achieve, answering those couple of emails didn’t feel out of balance.

That said, I do always try to balance things out so I have set up appropriate Do Not Disturb timings on my phone plus adjusted the notifications settings to ensure I am not constantly drawn to check my phone outside of my normal working hours.   I will acknowledge I suspect I look at my phone more often than I should mainly due to my social media usage and the habits I have built up, however I am currently looking at ways to help me address this including stopping using my phone as an alarm clock meaning it no longer has to be in the bedroom in the evening and morning.

And I think this is where the answer to this situation lies.    It partly lies with the school to avoid and manage emails, and other tasks, such that it doesn’t encourage the sending of excessive volumes of email, or the sending of emails at inappropriate times.   This relates to the espoused expectations of the school in relation to email and communications, plus to the wider culture and climate within the school.   But responsibility also lies with the individual to ensure they do not contribute to the issue in their sending of emails to others, plus they consider the practices that work best for them, including if this involves answers a couple of emails while sat by the pool or looking out towards the sea on holiday.

And as a final conclusion, I did enjoy my holiday which is what matters!

The culture of tech use

Over the last year I have spent time working with colleagues on developing our school technology strategy.    I have always felt we had a reasonably clear strategy however it was largely unwritten;   I felt there was a need to get something written down to ensure transparency and consistency in terms of technology decisions.      In exploring and developing this written version of the strategy one of the things I gave consideration to was culture where culture is evidenced by “the way we do things around here”.    My thinking was very much based on peoples actions, the stories they told, the narratives, being evidence of the culture.    In other words the behaviours were the outcome of the culture, cause and effect.   On reflection this is a little too narrow and one way.    As with most things in life, things are seldom this simple.

In thinking about wellbeing and the mental and physical side of things, rather than technology, it is clear that taking physical care of yourself, such as going for a run, can impact on your mental wellbeing.   And your mental wellbeing can have an impact on how you feel physically.    I remember reading of a study which correlated smiling, even if brought about due to holding a pencil in your mouth, with improved emotional state again showing a link between physical and mental aspects of our being.    This got me thinking as to culture, that rather than being cause and effect, if it is more a case of interdependence.

So, what if our actions and behaviours are not only a marker of the culture, but also the things that shape and mould culture over time.    We now have a cyclical relationship.    Our behaviours, our stories, etc shape the culture which in turn shapes our behaviour and the stories we tell and on and on ad infinitum.   This seems to link nicely to the fact that culture isnt easy to change, and changes over a longer rather than shorter time period.   As such actions to change culture are often little more than dropped rocks in a river.    They have limited impact on the rivers flow but over time and as more rocks are dropped in they can cumulatively change the direction of the river.

In relation to technology strategy and the culture which surrounds technology use in school, in terms of students, staff and parents, changing it is not easy however strategic initiatives, a lot like strategically deployed rocks, can help to change and shape an organisations culture relating to technology.   So, the question therefore is to decide which initiatives are likely to be successful and have the impact you are looking for.   One of the challenges here though is the constantly changing technological world and the increasing focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and school achievement measures.   These often draw focus towards the short term, this academic year, this term, etc, and away from the longer term and the little things which will change how the school looks and operates in 3, 5 or 10 years time, the school culture.  They also highlight the need to carefully plan and avoid failure, where we actually might want to be more innovative and agile in our planning plus embrace failure as a learning experience.

Strategic rocks in the culture of tech use

So, what are my strategic rocks?    For me there are 5 areas in technological strategy in schools which jump to mind, which represent long term projects and introducing a cultural change.

  1. 1:1 and increased personalisation of learning through technology with this embedded in teaching and learning practices

This is about using the tool, which is the technology in a classroom, to allow students to stretch the curriculum, how they evidence learning and also how they can customise learning to support their individual needs.   We are already seeing lots of examples of this in how tools like Flipgrid, OneNote, Microsoft Lens and Minecraft, to name but a few tools, that are being used.  We now need to build on this, embedding a greater use of technology across all lessons, but only where appropriate.

  • Increasing use of video and virtual reality or augmented reality to support teaching and learning beyond the boundaries of the physical classroom and the school day.

The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place, through technology, even when students cannot come to school.   Flipped learning, not a new concept, has already shown us how learning can happen outside lessons, with the review and reinforcement then happening in lessons.   The challenge is now to take what we have learned and to maximise the impact we can achieve from it now we are largely back in school, and in preparation should another pandemic or other issue occur.

  • A shift to cloud-based services

This is quite simply an acceptance that largely, but not always, schools are better having their services in the cloud supported by the infrastructure and support teams which are provided, rather than trying to support solutions hosted on-site with their own limited resources.    As the cyber risks continue the need to move to the cloud only intensifies.

  • Development of a holistic digital citizenship programme for staff and for students including greater awareness of data protection and cyber resilience.

As our technological reliance in the greater world increases and as we make greater use of technology in schools we need to ensure that students understand the benefits and risk.   They need to be supported to grow as digital citizens, to understand that the convenience provided by online services, by search and recommendation algorithms, is not without risk.   The challenge of individual privacy versus public good is another area in need of exploration.  They also need to appreciate the ethical dilemmas that future technologies might present us with.    And all of this needs to be through a more holistic and integrated programme than that which schools generally offer at the moment.  

  • Increasing use of data to inform teaching and learning and other areas of school operations.

And we need to look at the massive wealth of data which schools can and do gather and how we might maximise the impact this data may have.    Now I note that the job of cleaning it up so it can be used is a significant one, but if we can do so we would have data which could inform and help direct teaching and learning.   We would have a way to help teachers and students take control of learning but in a more informed, and data driven manner.

Conclusion

I think the 5 areas above outline a direction in terms of how I see things for the years ahead, at least the next 5 to 10 years.    The key therefore is about starting to drop the strategic rocks which bring about the cultural change by which the above 5 points become simply how we do things in school.   It isnt going to be a short process to make the above happen in any real embedded way, such that it becomes culture, but we need to start somewhere. And one of the positive notes I will end on, is that at least we are already making some progress towards some of the above; The process has already begun.

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