Reflections on month 1

JanuaryI must admit that January has been a difficult month.   A number of issues at school around key IT systems have put a high degree of focus on part of my team requiring them to seriously step up and take on new challenges.   The last two weeks of January have been particularly difficult as we have struggled to fix the issues which have arose plus where we have found it difficult to identify alternative solutions.   Now, as February begins, however, after many days of struggle, solutions have been found and these solutions not only represent a solution to the problems but also an improvement on the setup as it had been previously.   I must admit to having become stressed during January and also to being annoyed at times as to my inability to resolve the issues in hand.   I also acknowledge having seen things as a “Failure” to find a solution as opposed to a “not yet” moment.   I need to be more conscious of this in future as my behaviours are what people see as opposed to my intentions so if I talk the talk I need to be seen to walk the walk.        I have also noticed myself using an old favourite phrase of mine:  “The problem is…..”.    This is definitely something I need to knock on the head, as stating the problems will most likely sound either negative or obstructive in search for solutions.   Am not sure if “the challenge is…” sounds any better but the main thing will be to take care to avoid labeling inconveniences, difficulties, momentary challenges, minor deviations from the plan, etc. as “problems”.

Professional Development

The above problems have led to me getting more directly involved with some of the schools IT systems.   This has meant dusting off my old SQL skills and learning some new software solutions, etc.   It has been fun to get directly involved although at times frustrating such as when I spend around half a day updating a tables data just to find out that an automated routine deleted the tables data every evening.   This goes to indicate the importance of documenting systems, something that is generally left to last and therefore often missed out altogether.

I must note that the above wasn’t an area I had foreseen as professional development  I would be doing this year however it has certainly challenged me and forced me to learn new things.     Challenge was one of things I had identified in my pledges so I am happy in this area at least for now.   I would also say that this highlights some concepts in the book “Open” which I have been reading recently in that my learning was in a time which suited me plus via online resources and forums as opposed to more traditional training or PD models.


On a personal note my efforts to maintain a minimum of 30mins exercise a day in the form of walking , have been successful.    I doubt I will ever manage to do kilometres worth of jogging in the morning before work, as some do, however at least I am making an effort and making some, albeit modest, progress.


My reading in January has seen me complete two books in Open by David Price and The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely.    I have also done a little additional reading around data science and python programming.   The one thing I am looking forward to is having the garden at my new house done and to being able to sit out when the spring finally arises, to read a book or two.   Am sure I will be sharing a few photos of me sunning myself, with a beer and a good book in the months to come.


My journaling started off particularly well this month with me putting aside time to take notes on my experiences of each week.   Sadly as other issues arose as indicated in my opening paragraph, this has dropped by the wayside.    As I reflect on this the urgent/important quadrant diagram jumps to mind.     The things I have focussed on during some of this month have been the urgent items and have also been important however journaling, although not urgent, may be very important in the long run in providing me something to reflect on.    Without a record to reflect on I am at the mercy of my incomplete and often inaccurate recollections of things. Any attempt to derive improvement is negatively impacted upon by the resulting inaccuracies or omissions.  I will need to try and ensure I make a greater effort to secure my journaling time against other needs and tasks which may encroach.

In Conclusion

I cannot believe that the first month of 2018 has already been and gone, that one twelfth of the year is gone.   As I often say, “onwards and upwards”!


Stress: Taking a longer term view

stressed-smallThe last week has seen me move house.   A stressful process filled with problems.   Lets just say it hasn’t gone at all smoothly.   At this point a week after the main part of the move the house is still filled with boxes yet to be unpacked however I suspect the coming weekend will be used to address most of that.   It is with this change of circumstance, a new house, that I have come to reflect.

My original plan having returned to the UK from the UAE had been to rent for a short period of time before then buying a house.    That short period of time turned out to be just over 2 years.   Looking back the two years disappeared in a flash.     Thinking a little harder I can identify some of the difficulties and issues which led to the elongated period of renting.   I can also remember the stress associated with some of these issues.   Sleepless nights have resulted along with arguments and heated discussions within the family and with individuals outside the family.    Taking a helicopter view and looking out over the 2 years, the issues got addressed and maybe therefore some of the stress was unwarranted.  It didn’t help and served only to impact on the health and well being of the family.

This week has also seen me reflecting with my team as part of the annual appraisal process.   On a number of occasions during discussions we have identified projects which we have felt have not progressed at the rate with which we had wanted.   These projects have caused stress and angst.    Looking at them though through a wider perspective we see that progress was made and that some of the factors which slowed or even stopped progress were out with our control.    It is only looking long term and taking all things into account that we see the limited progress as being reasonable given the constraints and other factors which existed.    In the short term, in the here and now, this isn’t appreciated and the progress is just seen as below expectation.   The stress and angst at the issues in the short term serve little purpose when viewed across the longer term, other than to impact on the health and well being of the individuals concerned.

As I reflect I have come to realise that in the short term there is lot we don’t know, don’t perceive or don’t appreciate, that we will come to more aware of when we look back across the longer term.   It is this that we need to be aware of.   That sometimes we over stress, over think and that this impacts on our well being.   We need to keep in mind that we will eventually view these issues over a longer time frame at which point it is likely that we will be able to appreciate things we can’t in the short term.    We should therefore be wary of our stress levels and of stressing out at issues for in the longer term all this is likely to achieve is damage to our health and well being.

For me as I continue the process of moving I will bear this in mind such that the next time I feel stressed I will take a step back and remind myself that in the long term, with the appropriate level of effort, things generally work out.



Mood music

radio-for-car-2167269_640Popping to Tesco this morning to get some shopping I decided to make use of the wife’s car as it is newer than mine, lighter and easier to drive.    Jumping into the car and starting the engine I was greeted by my wife’s selection of upbeat music, at notably loud volume.    I decided to be kind and not mess with her stereo, instead choosing to listed to her musical selection albeit at a lower volume less likely to be audible from space.

As I drove to Tesco I found myself cheering up as I looked out on the blue sky in between the clouds.   I even found myself rolling down the window.    Something as simple as cheery upbeat music in the car had had the effect of changing my mood.      So how could this simple change impact on well-being if it was part of your daily routine, music in the car or when doing the chores at home, music in the classroom or when marking, etc.

I have decided that before work begins once more on Monday I will create a playlist for my own car purposely selecting up beat music.

I wonder what the implications are for the use of music within the classroom in order to put students in the mood for learning.    I know I have read in various books about the impact of music on mood, emotions and learning.   I also have read various examples of how teachers are make use of this concept however like a lot of approaches which can have an impact they often disappear under the busy activities of the average school day until something brings them back to mind;  For me my drive to Tesco in my wife’s car did just that.

iPads in Schools – Further thoughts

ipadI recently came across an old posting of mine from March 2013 with regards iPads in education.  See the full posting here.   In the posting I expressed concerns over the very generalized benefits of iPad devices in lessons being espoused at the conference I was attending.    I expressed a concern that this general positivity towards the impact of iPads was very similar to the unrealized positivity which for many years surrounded the Interactive Whiteboard.

It is now over three years further on so I thought this was an opportune time to reflect on my thoughts now, how things have turned out and my thinking as it is now.

Thinking back to 2013 I believe now that I was skirting around the key issue.       My concerns at the time were very much around the lack of significant evidence to support the benefits of using iPads in schools.    The conference had plenty of examples of where iPads had been used however the benefits were very generic such as pupil engagement, pupil collaboration and pupil directed learning.   I was looking for more quantifiable evidence of the benefits as opposed to these more general and anecdotal benefits.

Reflecting the key issue I missed was this idea of generalization and the issues which surround it.    My concern was the generalization of the benefits being stated by presenters at the conference however this generalization was inevitable as presenters strove to present in a way which could engage and be appropriate to attendees from various backgrounds and experience levels.    They were seeking to explain how they viewed the iPad as having the potential to have a positive impact on learning.   What I should have been more concerned with was this suggestion that the iPads benefits could be extrapolated to schools in general as opposed to the suggestion that the iPads had general benefits.

Every school is different in a multitude of both small and large ways.    This make the possibility for a single device to have benefits for school in general unlikely.    In addition the iPad as a piece of #edTech is a tool for learning and the impact of any tool depends on its usage.   A well used hammer will fix things to the wall whereas a poorly used hammer will just result in a sore thumb and fingers.    Given the dependence on usage and the likely significant variance in how devices are used again makes it unlikely that a single device such as the iPad could have benefits for schools in general.

Considering the presentations, and on reflection, what I should have been wanting to see was a school that told me what they had sought to achieve, what they had done and how they had assessed their success including what measures and data they used in measuring their success or failure.   The presenters should have been specific about their context and the impact of their use of iPads in this context, with no attempt made to generalize for the wider world.

As more schools look to engage in mobile learning this is my key message:

  • Be sure what you want to achieve through the use of mobile devices including iPads including considering how you might measure your impact and hopefully success.
  • Do your research on what devices can and cant do including seeking feedback from schools already engaged in using mobile devices however also remember that your context will most likely be different than theirs. Don’t assume as it worked in one school it will work in yours.
  • Consult widely. Use social media and your professional learning network (PLN) to get feedback and ideas.    Again, as indicated above always ensure you remember that the context within which those providing feedback are operating may differ from your context and therefore don’t assume what they have done would be transferable to your school.
  • Review, review and review some more. No matter how much planning and research you do there will always be something you miss.    These might be unexpected issues however equally possible are unexpected opportunities, new ways to apply the technology, unforeseen benefits, etc.

Above all if you are implementing mobile devices remember you are doing it for your students and staff and your school and therefore any solution or project needs to meet their needs and not the needs of the abstract concept of education or schools in general.




The subject of schools “gaming” school league tables and performance measures such as Progress 8 has made the news recently so I have decided to contribute my opinion to the mix.    Before doing so I need to be clear that I don’t have any particularly strong views with regards this issue.  I therefore believe that my points represent a balanced viewpoint.    I will however acknowledge that my assessment of my viewpoint as balanced is based on the context as set by my viewpoint, perception and the paradigms within which I operate as an individual.   As such, from the point of view of those reading, including yourself, this may not be balanced after all.    I make no apologies for this as all I can offer is my opinion, which is never wrong in that it is my opinion and therefore is formed based on my viewpoint and context.

Back on the subject of “gaming” the discussion seems to have opposing viewpoints.   One of these viewpoints is that a school should try to offer its students the best opportunities for success in the future.   As such it is important to enable them to achieve as many successful qualifications as possible.    These schools therefore look to enroll students in qualifications which for minimal effort return successful qualification, such as ECDL.

The other viewpoint is that schools enrolling students in bulk in ECDL are doing so in order to influence league tables and performance measures such as Progress 8.    Educators taking this position are of the opinion that these qualifications are of lesser value than other qualifications which may take longer to achieve or which are more difficult to achieve yet have comparable impact on league tables and other performance measures.

For me there may be truth in both viewpoints.   If the studying of specific exams is in the interest of students’ futures then surely it is the correct thing to do.    Consider two schools which are identical in outcomes except for the fact that students in one achieve an additional ECDL qualification.    Surely this puts students who leave with an additional qualification in a more positive position.   I myself worked in a school where we delivered OCR National IT to all students.   The reason we did this was due to vocational nature of the qualification which suited out student cohort plus the breadth of study and options available which allowed us to accommodate for individual student needs and interests.

Equally there is truth in the other viewpoint in that if a school put all students in for the ECDL qualification or the OCR National they may have done so purely in the interest of achieving a better league table position than other schools.   This may put students under stress where the qualification is additional, or may represent an unfair advantage where an “easy” subject has been substituted in place of a more difficult or valued subject with an equivalent or near equivalent league table or performance measurement points worth.

Both of the viewpoints include identical actions in the batch enrolling students in a given qualification yet both viewpoints result in totally opposing opinions.    The key fact is not so much what schools do but why they do it.    In one viewpoint it is about the students and the benefit to them while in the other viewpoint it is about the school and getting the best league table or performance measure result.

If OFSTED are to clamp down on “gaming” they are therefore going to have to try and identify why a school took the chosen action.     How are they going to do this?    How are they going to measure the “intentions” of school leaders?       Are we going to start seeing OFSTED inspectors administering polygraph lie detector tests on school leaders?

I also feel that this discussion has a lesser discussed aspect to it in the value of differing qualifications.   This discussion has raged for some time on the value of so called “core” subjects and the perceived lesser value of the arts and creative subjects.      The new “gaming” discussions adds differing values in terms of the perceived difficult level of a course along with the time taken to deliver the course, with shorter courses perceived to have lesser value.   Who will decide the relative worth of each course and the total worth of any individual students curriculum of study?

We should all be working in the interests of our students to try and provide them every competitive advantage with regards Further Education or Higher Education options, or options into employment, or even more generally into their future lives.   A key part of this is the qualifications they achieve so we need to get them everything reasonably possible.   In teaching we use every trick in the book to try and make sure students are learning plus are ready and able to succeed in whatever assessment is required to achieve a given qualification.   If this is “gaming” then maybe we are all involved.