Desirable difficulty

I wrote the below at the end of 2016 following setting the CISA exam however never saw fit to post it.   Having came across it I thought now might be appropriate to post it as I once again prepare for a December exam, this time the CISSP exam.


It was a hard few months leading up to the end of term.   Not only did I have the work associated with the end of the first term but I also had my blogging, my social media and in particular twitter contributions, my reading, family life and a few other tasks and responsibilities to deal with.   To add to this I had decided to undertake the ISACA CISA qualification and therefore throughout October, November and the start of December I was deep in study and preparation for the exam.

The exam itself happened on December 10th in London so involved a long drive down and a hotel stay prior to the exam on the Saturday morning.   I cant say the drive helped any however I have no-one to blame for this other than myself as I had previously vowed never to drive to London following a previous bad experience.

It was around 11:30am, 2 and a half hours after the exam began that I found myself walking away from London Metropolitan university with the exam completed and behind me.   It was with a little less weight on my shoulders that myself, my wife and youngest son ventured into Hamleys and a number of other shops in London prior to the drive home to Somerset.

Upon arriving home I was knackered to say the least so I decided a few beers was a very good idea and much deserved.    And so the Saturday evening passed.    Awaking on Sunday I remained tired and drained so aside from a little light shopping I took it easy.   As the week progressed I still remained tired and struggled to get into tasks.   Clearly the preparation for the exam had drained me more than I had being willing to admit, and possibly more than I was even aware.    Thankfully though I only had one more week of work to complete before my Christmas holiday began and I could recharge.

I am now glad of the time to recharge however as I reflect I ask myself would I repeat my actions or would I engage in preparation for another exam or qualification?   The answer is yes, although I will need to wait to see how I have done on the CISA exam first.    So for the next 5 weeks, until the results are available, I will maybe relax a little.    Then I will decide to make the time to engage in something else which challenges me or pushes me.   Why you may ask?   If i don’t the time will disappear absorbed into other tasks and I will look back and ask myself what I did with my time.   Instead I choose to make time, even if it means I deplete my energy levels, as I see the process of continual learning and of challenge to be important in my life, even if at times I wonder to myself, as I did entering the exam hall on the 10th:  “why the hell do I do this to myself?”


Looking back the phrase which immediately jumps to mind is “desirable difficulty”.    The challenge of preparing for the exam, the studying all while undertaking my usual job and also engaging online all made me have to expend effort, to work smarter, however it was worthwhile effort.    Had I not chosen to undertake these challenges I would be looking back having not achieved in the way I have done.    Although I would have had an easier time of it I would not be able to appreciate this as it would be normal; I wouldn’t have the effort full experience of studying and preparing for the exam to compare with having not chosen to take this route.   And so it is I have once again to decided to take the more challenging route; my next exam has now been booked and paid for.

Is this a discussion we need to have with students?    How we may perceive the easier route when we look back from the future is unlikely to match how we think of it now.    The more challenging route, the desirable difficulty, may yield the best results when we look back.

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New Academic Year Resolutions

And so the new academic year, 2017/18 begins…..

Firstly let me wish everyone all very best for the academic year ahead.

Following reading a twitter post be @darynsimon I thought this made a good opportunity for me to write down some of things which I hope to achieve in the academic year which now lies ahead.

Management Information

As I have previously written, in schools we have a massive wealth of data however I don’t believe we make the most of it.    I think there are two reasons for this, one being the fact that data is often held in the rows and columns of large spreadsheets such that it isn’t easily or immediately accessible to those who wish to use the data.    The second reason is that the data is set out to show us what we hope to already see.   For example showing the statistics of boys versus girls.    But what about the correlations which might exist which are not readily visible or expected.     As such one of the things I want to work on this year is trying to make data more accessible, including making use of Microsoft PowerBI to hopefully achieve this, and also trying to make use of various statistical analysis tools to analyse the data in new ways and hopefully identify new correlations which can then be acted upon.    I still believe it is what goes on in the class which matters most however my hope is that data might give us new insights and allow us to make better decisions.

Sharing and my PLN

I want to spend this year sharing my thoughts and ideas online plus further developing my PLN.   This includes developing a series of sessions on digital literacy and on preparing students for a digital future.    I also want to revisit using video and possible video blogging, which is something I looked into a couple of years back however failed to make much progress.   I would now like to get back to this and hopefully this time get further with it.

EdTech

As I now enter my second year as a Microsoft Innovative Educator I want to experiment a little more with a variety of edTech solutions during the year ahead.   I would like to try and be a little more creative with my use of technology.  Part of this will include looking to make greater use of the Office 365 suite in both working with colleagues and also in working with students.     Yammer is one resource in particular I intend to experiment with.     I also want to have a look at how Flow might be used to streamline my day and, as mentioned above, looking at how PowerBI might be used to better manage school data.

Reading / CPD

Over the calendar year so far I have started reading a lot more than previously and this is something I want to continue to do throughout the academic year.   I feel such reading is both relaxing but also a valuable professional development and personal growth opportunity.   In addition to this I am also challenging myself to prepare for a formal IT accreditation with plans to undertake the CISSP exam in December of this year.    This will represent a significant challenge in preparing for what is quite a significant exam however I consider the challenge to represent desirable difficulty.   In my view only by pushing ourselves can we truly hope to grow.

I look forward to the year ahead and to seeing what 2017/18 will bring.   I also look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas with other educators both in person and online during the year ahead.

TV box sets and feelings of guilt

Over the last week or so I have taken some time off and not been as active on social media, my blog, and otherwise online as I had been previously throughout the year.    This is not due to spending time planning for the year ahead, to reading books or to anything else that might be considered productive.   In-fact I have spent at least a few days of the week or so off just engaged in watching TV box sets.   The problem with this is that at various points in this period of “vegging out” I have found myself feeling guilty as to my inactivity.

Over the last year to date I have read a variety books about how to be effective, productive or how to get the best from myself or from the teams which I work with.   This includes reading Andrew Cope’s Being Brilliant, Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit among others.   Each of the books talks about how we tackle obstacles, build positive habits and generally work smarter.   They are all about making the most of the limited resources in relation to time and also our limited cognitive resources.   None of these books talk about vegging out in front of Game of Thrones for two or three days.   It may be that this reading plays some part in my feelings of guilt.   Clearly I am not making the best of my cognitive abilities or the time I have available to me if all I am doing is watching John Snow mount his defence of Winterfell.  As a result I feel guilty for wasting my valuable resources.   Clearly I should be doing something with my time.

My current reading of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death however has got me thinking that maybe I need to reconsider the factors which lead me to feelings of guilt.    Becker talks about a paradox of individuality versus our finite lifespan, and of thought versus body.    Clearly most of my activities focus on thought, in planning, in writing and sharing thoughts, in working out how to make most of my time and resources and of putting into practice the outcomes of my thinking.    I have built a habit of these efforts; how can I make best use of my time?   How can I prioritize tasks?   How can I ensure I get all tasks that need doing done?  This habit then leads to the feeling of guilt when I try and break with the habit and sit and watch TV for hours on end.   But what about what Becker refers to as body or what about a break from thought?

As I am not really a fitness focused person I think a break from thought as opposed to action focused on body or fitness aligns more with my priorities.    Considering thought or our cognitive ability as being of limited resource might it not be necessary to provide this resource some respite occasionally?    Might a person not feel re-energized following a period of rest from thought?  Could it be that a limited period of vegging out might have a positive outcome?

As I return to the online sphere after a short break my guilt is the issue which worries me as opposed to the time spent sat watching the TV.   The guilt indicates that internally I feel I shouldn’t be spending any significant time sat glued to the screen.    Yet I enjoyed some time catching up on some TV.   I felt relaxed.    I felt at rest.     Is a period of TV watching or similar vegging out just another luxury which in moderation has its place?      At this point I would suggest it is and therefore hopefully when I next decide to sit down for a period of serial TV watching I may be able to do so and enjoy it more, devoid of feelings of guilt.

Do you have any time set aside for vegging out during the summer holiday period?  Is it your guilty pleasure or just a big no no and a waste of time?

 

 

 

Reflections following a funeral

Attending a family funeral can cause a sudden moment of reflection.   What would people say about me at my funeral is the question raised in a number of self-help or self-improvement texts, and I found myself giving just that question some thought.

I was sat at the wake where I heard myself described as the “intelligent” one in the family, a title I personally don’t believe I deserve.     Thinking about it can I understand the narrative which relatives had developed, in that intelligence is measured by qualifications so more qualifications means more intelligence.   This simple narrative excludes the effort expended as well as the decision making processes including personal sacrifice in getting the qualifications I have.   It excludes the multitude of wrong turns and failed endeavors which have occurred along the way.    It also excludes a fair share of luck which has put me in the right place at the right time.     This being said I must acknowledge that at my future funeral I won’t be around to argue and therefore it is this perception, the perception of others as to me, which will be presented as fact.     But do I really want to be known for being the one with the most qualifications?   Does this make for a successful life?

So what are the stories of my life which people will draw on in describing me following my parting?    My career history might be something which comes to mind, in my adventure to work in the Middle East.   Most of my family have spent their life within a relatively small geographic area however I have spent years in each of the north west of England, the south west and also in the Middle East.   As such I may be seen as someone who explored opportunities wherever they arose.

I suspect my qualifications, as mentioned earlier, will come up albeit this isn’t something I believe is particularly important.

My work ethic may be something that comes up, as I am forever working on something be it writing in this blog, preparing for an exam, working on things for my day job or on something else.    Some of these tasks are personal and some are work related, some are about personal growth and development, however I suspect the perception will classify them all simply as “work”.

I would hope that a focus on my family would be raised in trying to ensure the best for both my kids and also for my wife.     Part of work ethic relates to trying to ensure I can best provide for them however it is interesting in that the work ethic may reduce the actual amount of time spent with them.   This is something I want to address in the year through a family holiday, something we haven’t actually done in many years now.

As I reflect I can’t help but consider that it is stories and narratives which will be recounted when I am gone.    These stories may not necessarily sum up that which I do on a day to day or week to week basis but are the things which come easily to mind, the events which are memorable.    So it may not be the items which I list above which are raised, but instead stories of when I went for a family car and returned with a two seater instead or of when I turned up at the airport to fly out having picked up my son’s passport rather than my own and the ensuing stress.

So I find myself wondering, is the funeral activity a worthwhile activity?     Am not sure it is.   Maybe a better question to consider is what are the stories of my life, have I enough of them to fill my funeral with funny anecdotes and stories, and how do I go about creating new stories in the time I have left.   I intend to focus more in creating new stories in the days ahead.

Reflections: 2017 so far

Having just turned 41 years of age, it makes for a good time to reflect a little on the year so far.   Firstly I think its important to note that this year appears to be disappearing very fast.   I feel at this point as if the Christmas period was only yesterday.   I suspect a quick review of past posts will show a similar perception throughout the year.   I may be able to draw positive conclusions from this, in that time flies when you are having fun, or negative conclusions in that I am that busy I am unable to stop and truly experience or review the events that have occurred.    A third option, and the one I think I will stick with on this occasion, is the that this clearly highlights the frailty of our memories to accurately reflect past events.

During the last few months I have taken to journaling to try and keep a record of the things I have done and how I have felt.   Sadly this has been a little hit and miss with some weeks consisting of daily records of each day while other weeks have been empty of record.    This is something I want to try and be more consistent with and I have been considering that maybe I will need to reduce my blogging in order to release time to facilitate this.   Given that one of the reasons for blogging is to have personal records of my thinking, which is the same reason for having a journal, this trade off seems logical.    As such this may represent the last of my blogs for a little while at least.

I found the recent Secret Teacher article in relation to English teachers not reading quite interesting given that I had set one of my targets or pledges to be reading at least 1 book per month.   I continue to progress well on this target with the hope that I will continue to do so.    I am finding the act of reading to be relaxing but also thought provoking as I explore subjects such as stoicism, culture and also how we think.     The Secret Teacher article strikes me as representing gross generalisation, which is often a feature of online educational discussion, although generally this is backed up by some research.

The area of fitness continues to be one of my weak areas.   Still I am unable to keep up more than a sporadic attempt at physical exercise.    As I have repeatedly said before this is an area which I need to continue to work at.    I am starting to wonder whether the issue here is that I am basing my targets on what other people do while my aspirations should clearly be much lower.     A quick glance at twitter highlights various teaching colleagues across the world who have engaged in their daily or weekly run.   Am afraid the best I can hope for is a monthly or yearly doddle.   Maybe the fact that it is in my mind and therefore I am making sporadic attempts is the best I can hope for.    I suppose I can also be positive in that I have played an hour or so of football with my son on the last three nights.   Progress is progress, even if it is little and infrequent!

My connectedness is another area which is giving me similar thoughts to the above.   I feel that I should be doing more in terms or writing blog pieces, contributing to twitter chats, contributing to publications, etc.    Now again this may be comparisons with others who appear to be doing more.   Again, twitter and other social media seems to present us with models to follow however I am increasingly wondering if these are the right aspirations.   Are the few education stars on social media distorting what I perceive as normal expectations or more accurately my expectations?   These stars are a very small percentage of the overall educational body of individuals across the world yet they are very public and visible.   If plotted on a graph of connectedness they would be outliers, being significantly more connected and active than most, however this has an effect of significantly changing the average connectedness.  Take them out of the equation and the average would be significantly lower.    In addition to this there is the psychological factor in that they are very public and therefore come easily to mind.   This ease with which they come to mind makes then seem common which again impacts on the perception as to the connectedness of the average educator.   This makes me think of Coveys book, “First things first”, and that there may be a need for me to reflect on what actually is my “first thing”.

Five months of 2017 have now be completed and I must say that they seemed to have passed quickly.   The summer period is now not that far away and I look forward to using some of the time over this period to reflect and plan for the start of a new academic year, to energise and also as discussed above, to re-evaluate and identify what truly is important.   I may also look back and review my previous evaluations of the year, as I have posted year over the last year of so with some regularity, to see if any patterns are emerging, however that’s for another day!

 

 

 

 

Reflections: The first quarter of 2017

And so April is upon us, and the 2nd term of the 2016-17 academic year comes to a close.    I have said it a few times already this year, but how time flies!

I thought now would be a good time to review the year so far and to look back on my resolutions for 2017 and evaluate the progress made to date.

When I wrote my resolutions I listed a need for mindfulness including an awareness of my emotional state, however I don’t think I fully appreciated the importance of this aspect of life.   My recent reading of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and also The Obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday have both further brought this into focus.     Our reality is viewed through the lens of our perception, therefore if we take a more optimistic view, if we focus on what is in our control, then we can bring about a more positive reality.     With this in mind I think I have made some progress, for realisation is a step in itself.   This however will need to be something which I continue to consider, and to revisit.

I don’t feel I have been as connected during the first quarter of 2017 as I maybe was in 2016 with a reduced engagement in twitter balanced out against a slight increase in my blogging.   I think this is reasonably fair and acceptable outcome.    I am starting to consider the depth of connection, with a view that some of my social media based connections are generally more shallow than corresponding in-person connections.     This seems to suggest that my focus should be more on attending events and building in person contacts however I am unsure as to how I will be able to fit this into a busy schedule.    I also wouldn’t want to lose out on my diverse range and highly valuable Professional learning network where it exists online.

My reading has definitely been going well so far this year.   As we reach the end of the 3rd month of the year, I have completed reading 6 books.     The books themselves have all been reasonably deep titles including Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.    I have very much enjoyed reading more, and even managed to find a single sunny day to spend outside in the gardening reading.   Hopefully the months ahead will provide more opportunities for this to happen.

As has been the case before the health and physical exercise side of things has slipped.    My planned walking across campus daily was adding time to my day albeit only 20mins or so and as such, and especially given the cold winter weather, I decided to stop this activity.   I now need to find some way to address this area in my life even more so having saw the news the other morning which raised the concern of the high percentage of people in the UK who live a sedentary lifestyle.    I suspect I am one of those people!

The family side of things have met with some success so far this year.   I am now spending a short daily burst of time with my son on his maths development in particular.   I have also managed to remember some of the key family dates and surprise my wife in doing so.    This is something I need to continue to work on.

My current book which I am reading is Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan.   I think it will be interesting to revisit my reflections having completed reading this as it has already raised some interesting ideas in relation to pleasure and purpose.   At this point I think I am more of a busy, or purposeful, person.  Am not sure yet whether this is a good thing or not.

I tried for a period to engage in daily journaling however this dropped away in the last month or so.    I think this may be an interesting practice to pick back up possibly using a purpose vs. pleasure framework for notes.     Hopefully this is therefore something I can recommence and sustain through the final term of the year.

All in all, I feel things are progressing steadily in terms of the things achieved, however time is seeming to fly by.   They do say that time flies when you are having fun, so for now I will be content to leave these reflections on that positive note.

 

 

 

4 Years of blogging. How time flies!

4thIt was 4 years ago today that I sat one evening in my villa in Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates, and wrote my first blog piece.   It seems like only yesterday!    My initial period of blogging was a little sporadic with some months containing 2 or 3 posts while other months contained nothing.   It has only been in the last year or so that I have tried to reach some regularity in my rate of posting with an aim of writing something at least on a weekly basis.

In the four years a lot has changed.   Four years ago I was an educational consultant working in UAE whereas now I am back in the UK in the independent school sector.    Four years ago I was in my thirties and I am now in my forties.    Four years ago my son was at the start of his school life however now he is towards the end of his primary education.    Four years ago I was relatively negative about the use of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) and iPads whereas now I am very positive about iPads although my dislike of IWBs remains.   Four years ago I had a degree and a postgraduate certificate, now I have a Masters along with various other EdTech related statuses.   So in four years, more experience, four years older, a different country, a different educational sector and a different context.     Its amazing what can change over four years!

Looking back I have found my blog to be a useful window into my thoughts over the last four years.   It has been interesting the number of times upon re-reading an entry I have found my memory of events to have been challenged.    Being able to reflect and compare has been very useful indeed.

The actual act of writing a blog piece is useful in itself in that it forces you to order and organise your thoughts before, or as, you type them out.   The process alone has made me reconsider my point of view on at least a few occasions.

As an avid consumer of online educational content through twitter, Pinterest and the blogs of variety of different educationalists I am always conscious of the one-way nature of consumption.    Posting a regular blog allows me to contribute back to the online discussions even if no-one reads my posts, at least I am doing what is within my power and influence to put something back in.  At least I am putting myself out there.

Blogging allows me to offload thoughts and ideas onto the screen.  The human mind has a limited capacity for thinking, ideas, etc. and therefore the act of putting some ideas into a blog releases some capacity which can then be deployed on other things.   It’s a little bit of a mindfulness exercise.     Now I am no neuro-scientist so I can’t prove the above to be true but it feels right and some of my reading over the years has suggested the limited capacity of the mind to be true.

I will however be honest and although the majority of the reason for blogging is for me personally I still do occasionally check the statistics to see if people have been reading my posts.    I still get a little bit excited by the occasional reader comment which shows me that my musings are at least of interest to at least one person.     Or by the retweet or like on twitter relating to a post I have written.    I admit this is a little shallow however I am a human after all.  If it wasn’t about others reading then this blog would be document which only I could read.  I hope as a public sharing it is more useful.

So its now been four years that I have had this site running.    Here’s to the year ahead, and getting to five!

Image “Fourth Four Indicates Happy Birthday And 4” by Stuart Miles from http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.Net