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.

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JISC Security Conference Day 2

It’s been a few days since the JISC Security Conference however I am only now seeing light at the end of the tunnel, having spent the last few days catching up following my two days out at the event.   As such I thought I would share some thoughts following Day 2 of the conference.

Defend as one

During the course of the 2nd day of the conference I attended a number of sessions where various educational institutions shared their experiences of cyber incidents.   I will admit it was good to hear their experiences as generally all we get to hear of in relation to cyber incidents in schools, colleges, and universities, is the news posts which lack any of the detail as to the cause and impact of the incident, or of the resulting recovery operations.   It would be good to hear more of the details around cyber incidents in schools, etc, as there is a great opportunity for use to learn from the experiences and collectively seek to be more secure, with this being summed up by the JISC conference tag line, “Defend as one”.    I will however note the challenges in relation to this due to the sometimes sensitive nature of such information.

Cyber:  An IT issue?

Now the event itself was very useful for me as a Director of IT, being surrounded by others in similar roles however, as identified by one of the speakers, this also represents a challenge.    Technology security is not solely the responsibility of IT.    It is the responsibility of all those who use technology, who manage or are the owners of data, who lead departments and who lead or govern within educational institutions.      Equally all these people need to be onboard and considering what they might be doing in the event of a critical technology incident where they will need to try to keep operations going while the IT team focusses on the technical issue.     Yet the JISC security conference was mainly attended by IT people.   Clearly there is need for others to be more engaged, and I will certainly be looking to try and encourage other non-IT senior staff to attend events like this in the future.

Third Parties and supply chain risk

As the second day proceeded, I started to see some key themes and messages coming out, some of which aligned with some of my thinking, with one of these being the risk associated with third parties and the supply chain.   Increasingly we are using more external solutions, either online based solutions, or solutions where we have technology solutions from a third party running on our networks.   Examples might include a third party hosted web-site solution, a CCTV solution hosted on site, or a visitor management solution hosted on site.    These solutions have access to school data or may be on the school network, and as such may either represent a risk to the data should they suffer a cyber incident or could represent a risk to the school network.   If on the school network, they might introduce vulnerabilities, which we are unable to address and where instead we must wait for the supplier to identify and resolve by developing and deploying an update or patch.   So this risk highlights the need for due diligence before introducing new solutions.  This didn’t really happen during the pandemic, as we sought to act quickly to address the challenges so there is work to do in carry out the due diligence for systems now in use.   Also, due diligence at the point of purchase represents a snapshot;  Most technology solutions evolve over time, with new functionality being added or existing functionality adjusted and changed, meaning the due diligence which was originally conducted is now out of date and inaccurate.  This highlights the need for periodic review, but this is then yet another task or piece of work which needs doing, and who does this due diligence where departments across a school, college or university as sourcing their own solutions?  For me the key here is we need to look to do more in relation to examining the cyber resiliency and disaster recovery plans of the third parties we use.

Prioritisation

Another theme which came across was the extent of the cyber incidents described.   Basically, in some cases it meant going back to scratch, turning everything off and rebuilding.   But this takes significant time running into weeks and months.    This means it is key to identify the priorities for the recovery.  What systems and processes need to be recovered first?    If we don’t stop and consider this now, when things are running, we will likely find ourselves in the middle of an incident with every department and users screaming that they system or process is most important, and we will then waste significant time trying to debate and decide.    Clearly there is need to examine all the systems and technology in use and then identify a clear and documented priority order for these systems such that when an incident occurs there is a clear priority order with which to work with.

Data Governance

The issue of data governance was particularly notable in discussions related to HE, to universities and this is likely due to their size and scope when compared with schools and colleges.   That however is not to say that the same challenges don’t also exist in schools and colleges.   The key question here is about the basics of data management and knowing what data we have, why we have it, where it is and likely most importantly who is responsible for it.   And in terms of responsibility, I am not referring to IT teams being responsible as they run the systems the data is stored on, but who the owner of the data is.  For example, admissions data doesn’t belong to IT, it belongs to the admissions team, while pastoral data belongs to the pastoral team.    IT can never know the processes and uses of all the data stored by different depts on IT solutions, therefore they cannot therefore be responsible for the data management side of such data.   It is the data owners that are responsible for what data they gather, how it is stored, how long they keep it, etc.    It was key from some of the discussions that greater effort needs to be made to ensure all understand who is responsible for what data. 

Conclusion

There was a lot to think about on Day 2 and to be honest I havent as yet had a sufficient amount of time to properly stop and reflect on the day or on the wider conference as a whole.   And I suspect it will be a few weeks and maybe the end of term before this will properly happen.

That said the above represents some of my initial thoughts based on some of the copious notes I took during the course of day 2.

I will end on an important message as I see it; This can all seem like doom and gloom.  The “when” rather than “if” of a cyber incident, the size and impact of such an incident and the multiple things we need to be doing to prevent and prepare, but against the backdrop that no matter what we do it may still happen.    We cannot allow it to be all doom and gloom.   My view is therefore that we need to simply seek to continually improve, to not try and do everything, but to try and seek to be more secure today than we were yesterday.

JISC Security Conference Day 1

I thought it would be useful for this weeks blog to focus on the JISC Security conference in Wales, which I am attending today (Mon 7th Nov) and tomorrow, plus which includes a third day held online.

So, lets start with my usual travel difficulties.   This shouldn’t have been a difficult one as have driven to the event however my car decided to develop some engine issues, including the engine warning light deciding to stay one plus occasionally flash alarmingly at me.   I noted a reduction in engine power which meant my cheeks were firmly clenched as I crossed the Prince of Wales bridge in the wind and rain;  Not somewhere I would want to break down.   Thankfully the car got me to my destination and can now have a rest before the return leg.

So the event itself, as I write this opening part of the blog I am sat waiting for the event to begin.  I have high hopes for the conference as there are so many different talks all focussed on the very important topic of technology security in education, principally in Further Education and Higher Education.   As a topic technology or cyber security is increasingly important in schools, colleges and universities as cyber criminals seem set on targeting education.   One presenter at the JISC conference suggested education was the number 1 target for ransomware attacks.   It makes sense sadly due to the data schools, colleges and universities hold, plus due to the fact the focus is on education with cyber security relegated to a secondary or even tertiary concern, often reserved for those working in IT roles.   Given the focus of the whole conference is on security I was very hopeful that I will take away quite a bit from the two days.

One of the big take aways from Day 1 for me was a document which presented 16 questions for University Vice Chancellors to answer in relation to cyber security.   The purpose of the 16 questions being to prompt discussion in relation to cyber security at the highest levels of management in universities.  It was clear from conversations with a few people that although this document had been sent to all universities, it hadnt necessarily been disseminated and discussed.   Looking at the 16 questions I could see how they were applicable not just to universities but also to colleges and even schools.    This did make me wonder about the need to share ideas and how, at the moment, there are various organisations sharing advice on cyber security, however no-one really collating this and providing it across sectors.   For example the DFE shared guidelines for schools while JISC developed and shared guidance for universities, yet both publications contained some common themes.   Wouldn’t it be good if this was shared centrally but with all educational institutions regardless of stage/sector?

Another discussion that I found interesting related to how we know or can assess how we are doing in relation to cyber in our own organisations.   Each school/college should be doing some form of risk assessment but it would be useful to be able to take this and assess your security against other similar institutions.   In HE this could be done using the 16 questions, but would rely on universities self assessing and then sharing their findings with a body such as JISC who could then calculate the “average” preparedness for universities.  This average could then be used as a benchmark with which to compare.   For schools, rather than the JISC 16 questions, the DFE guidelines could be used in a similar fashion.

If there was one big take away from day 1 of the JISC event it was that universities, colleges and schools are all subject to similar risks in relation to cyber crime and cyber resilience, albeit with different resources available to address the challenges.    As such there is a need to collaborate more across sectors, sharing experiences and knowledge where possible.    Currently the sharing is very silo’ d, so schools and MATs share, independent schools share and universities share, but each sharing separately.   There is a need, in my view, to bring this all together.

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.

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….

Day 1 of BETT

OK so lets start with the usual BETT mishap, and this years one is a good one.   Basically had a breakfast meeting setup for during BETT, occurring in the centre of London.    So I departed my BETT hotel and headed out early in the morning, necessitating getting up around 6am.   And so it was I arrived early, found the location and took in some views of the Thames, before presenting myself at the venues security area, an area populated by around 15 security staff and me, their first visitor of the day.    But they had no reference of the event I was attending.   A quick look at the invite and it was dated the 24th March, tomorrow, I had just somehow got it in my head it was on day 1 of BETT.   I was not just early, I was 24 hours too early!     Now am not sure how I will ever top this one.

Networking

So, onto BETT itself.    The main benefit of the event is the networking side of things, and once again it provided on this side of things.    I spent a bit of time with the Association of Network Managers in Educations (ANME), spoke with Steve Beswick from Microsoft in relation to the Microsoft Surface Devices and inking and discussed cyber security and data protection with Tony Sheppard

I also said quick hellos to Mark Anderson and Al Kingsley on the Netsupport stand and to Abdul Chohan and Aarti Malani ahead of their session plus to Tom Dore from British esports (and am being careful to ensure I write esports correctly following Toms session) and Ian Stockbridge.     And apologies to others I may have missed off, in my foggy recollection at the end of a busy first day.   I will note I need to get better with my selfies, as despite the many hellos or quick chats I came away with very few selfies.

Esports and cyber

I took in Tom Dores talk on esports, which really highlighted the potential esports has as a vehicle to engage students and to promote soft skills plus also the digital citizenship skills and knowledge increasingly needed in this technological world.    This highlights my need to continue to encourage and support esports in schools.

I also took in two cyber security discussions, with the most significant comment being the need to discuss “Cyber Resilience” of schools rather than the narrower focus of “cyber security”, looking largely only towards preventative measures.   I also liked the 10 recommendations which one of the sessions finished on which included the need to adopt a “Continuous Improvement Cycle”, with this need echoed in the 2nd of the two sessions.   The need for the wide awareness of cyber risks among staff but more particularly as something discussed at a senior level, regularly, with this referring to daily or weekly rather than an annual discussion.

Interactive Panels

I wont make much of a discussion on this as sadly there were still quite a few companies hocking their interactive panels and projectors.   Not really that much of a surprise from a business perspective as, if you take them as useful, the market comprimses of every single classroom in every school, across the world;   As such I need to get over this issue;   As long as there is a market and a profit I suspect interactive panels will continue to show up at EdTech shows.    One interesting trend though this year, was the projectors setup to create large interactive floor surfaces or walls rather than your traditional board wall space.   It’s a minor variation of the interactive panel theme and I can see some interesting use cases with younger kids, but still feels a bit like old tech, just wrapped up as something new and shiny, and I note I saw i3 doing similar things almost 10 years ago now.

AI and Machine Learning

It came up in some of my discussions especially in relation to cyber security products, but as it was quite a busy day I didn’t really push anyone in defining how AI or machine learning was utilised within their products.   Maybe something to focus on in day 2.

Conclusion

Day 1 was a busy one.    My step count by the end of the day was around 15,000 steps, and being above 6ft tall, plus tending to walk at a brisk pace, this means I covered some surface area, in and around the chats and presentations.    Although BETT this year Is smaller, it didn’t really feel smaller.

Was it worth it coming down for BETT?    I would suggest it was however at the end of day 1 I wonder in myself whether I could have made more of day 1.    But that is an issue I am more concious of in myself these days, that maybe the search for continuous improvement leaves me always feeling a little disappointed no matter how things have gone.    Maybe I need to relax a little, network, have fun and just be content with having achieved all that I could achieve.

9 Years of blogging

Feb 12th 2012 and I was sat on the bed at night, creating my new blog.   My first post was a short one, but little did I know that I would still be blogging some 9 years later.   374 posts have passed under the bridge since that evening at home in our villa in the UAE.   Now I sit at home writing this, some 1000’s of kilometres away from where my blog began, now living in Somerset rather than Al Ain.

My blog has never had a huge readership; to be honest it barely has a small readership; however, I have found the process of writing useful for myself, forcing me to order my thoughts before typing them out.  At a recent virtual event, someone commented about where I find the time to blog in addition to my normal workload as a Director of IT.   There is only a limited time in the day, and this will never change, so I try to avoid concerns about the lack of time.  Instead, I have always sought to prioritise, and that includes putting some time aside to write my blog.   Often this has involved stealing a small amount of time here and there.   As I type this, the Amazon TV series Reacher is on in the background, and I am half watching it as I type this.    Given I try to just get my thoughts down, rather than seeking to create a literary masterpiece, this works for me.   Most of my posts have been written in a single sitting rather than being reviewed and edited, which explains, and hopefully excuses, the number of typos, grammar errors and sentences which read poorly.

The other benefit I have found from blogging has been the fact it creates a record of my thinking.    As such, when I look back it provides a window into my thinking at a particular moment in time, in the past.  I have found this useful in charting how some of my views, opinions and beliefs have changed over the last 9 years.   We seldom admit or even appreciate how much our views and beliefs change, however having a written record, has helped me to realise how much and where I have changed, and where I have not.     I think in future, when I look back on the period 2020 – 2022 and the pandemic, I might find particular value in the records of my thoughts and from this there might be a number of learning points which I can take away.

I also hope that in blogging I am contributing to the wider world, to the education and technology discussion.   Ultimately is this not something we all wish for, to have achieved something and left something behind.   I hope that at least some of my thoughts have contributed something meaningful to the discussion, and I hope to continue to do so.

Blogging isnt for everyone, and to be honest I never really thought it was something I would get into.   That said, I would recommend that if you are thinking about it, just do it.  Don’t worry too much about who will read your posts, about what you will write about, etc, just be yourself and share your thoughts.   The more people sharing in my view the better, especially as we continue to work through the difficulties presented by a global pandemic.

So, with this, that’s 375 blog posts in 9 years.   Onwards to another year and I look forward to continuing to share my thoughts.

A day in the life of a Director of IT

The below post was originally shared via the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME) on 20th December 2021


Different schools use different job titles for the work that I do, and in addition, the specific tasks and requirements differ from school to school based on size, context, budgetary constraints and a variety of other factors. As such, I thought I would share a brief outline of a day in my life.

So, it’s Thursday, December 2nd and the day kicks off for me around 8:15 am when I arrive at the office and get set up for the day. My first port of call is to get email on screen plus my collection of daily web pages including my To-Do list, our help desk and other apps I need on a daily basis. One of the first things I look at is any alerts in relation to suspicious user account activity to see if there is anything that might merit my involvement plus also to make sure anything which requires logging is logged ready to be reported to SLT.

My next activity was a quick chat with our Network Manager in relation to some Wi-Fi usage data I had been looking at. We started gathering the data and analysing it in response to some general student complaints regarding Wi-Fi connectivity, however, the data doesn’t quite support the existence of a general issue, albeit individual students may have specific issues in relation to their devices, connectivity, or services which they are trying to access. Rather than requiring general action, these issues will require contact with the students to try and identify and resolve their specific, individual issues.

At 9:00 and my first meeting of the day, with our Director of Finance. There are a number of current projects which make up the agenda for our discussion plus a discussion of cyber security issues and some recent infrastructure challenges we had been facing.

As is generally the case, the meeting is a packed one and, in this case, even runs beyond the allocated one-hour slot. Immediately following the meeting, I spend a little bit of time digesting the discussion and noting down any actions, making sure these are added to my To-Do list as appropriate.

10:30 and I am working on our annual IT Services perception survey. This is basically 3 surveys that go out to staff, senior school students and prep school students to gauge their experience and perception of IT Services and of our devices, infrastructure, etc. We have been gathering this info now for around 5 years and it is the longitudinal nature of the data, rather than the in-year data which is most useful as it highlights trends over time. I spend a little time preparing the relevant surveys and the associated communications that go with them, plus make sure to keep a number of key staff aware of the planned release of the surveys.

Following this, my next task relates to phishing awareness. We recently ran several awareness tests on small groups of staff whereby we sent a fake phishing email to them to see if they identified the email as malicious or if they fell for the bait. I now need to write up a short report on the findings from the most recent test so this can be shared with SLT for their info. This process has been useful in identifying the type of phishing emails that staff tend to fall far, which then allows us to direct awareness training to this area.

My department weekly briefing is my final task before lunch. This is a weekly document rather than a face-to-face meeting and serves to share thoughts, notices, etc with the IT Services team hopefully also serving as a record of activities, etc and as a repository of useful info. It isn’t a long task to create these each week as I tend to follow a rough template. This week’s briefing turns out to be a slightly longer one, but this is mainly due to sharing some of the positive feedback I had received in relation to the team’s recent activities.

Following lunch, I have meetings with the Head of IT at our prep school and our Director of EdTech for our senior school. I work closely with both, where their focus is very much is on what happens in the classroom and the pedagogy, my focus is a little more on the technology, infrastructure, support services and cyber security. The key thing is together we are able to provide a guiding direction in terms of technology use within the school, each able to bring our different experiences and skillset to bear in discussions. Due to this, we make up a central part of the schools IT Management group which also includes SLT members and a number of teaching staff. This week’s discussions focus on the school’s technology strategy and expanding on it so staff have a clearer understanding of it, plus on the now-launched satisfaction surveys.

The end of the day (5pm) is now fast approaching so I spend a bit of time continuing to work on my end of term report. I try to provide a termly report which contains useful data in relation to our infrastructure, systems, user support, etc. The purpose of the data is very much about transparency and making sure that the SLT is always aware of all the work going on in IT Services even when everything is working fine. It also serves to identify trends, opportunities, and concerns. I find the report particularly useful in continuing to build awareness in relation to cyber security risks. As much as possible I try to use readily available data to avoid it taking too long to process however, the reports still do take a bit of time to produce. In my view, they are however well worth the effort in avoiding IT Services disappearing behind the curtain until the next issue arises.

Reflections

Looking back, it was a reasonably busy day with a number of reports being written. I suspect this was largely due to the fact we were fast approaching the end of term but also the end of the calendar year and therefore some of these reports needed to be in before everyone broke up for the winter break. Cyber security was certainly high on my order of thinking, however, this is increasingly the case. Our technology strategy, which we recently updated, was also high on the priority list.

I suspect, although Directors of IT, or those in similar roles at other schools, are all travelling in roughly similar directions in terms of technology use within their school or schools the route taken can differ significantly. As such my day may look totally different to your day, but that’s not a problem. The key is that we each know in which direction we wish to go, and are taking the necessary steps to get there.

Pledges 2022

Once again it is time to write my pledges for the year and I note this year a number of people online suggesting they won’t be sharing any pledges this year due to current pandemic situation being stressful enough, without adding the additional pressure of trying to meet some well meaning targets set at the beginning of the year.    I can totally get this thinking;   If you look at my review of 2021 you will get a sense of how I felt I “survived” the year rather than making progress, growing or flourishing as I would have liked to.    As such I considered not sharing any pledges this year however I have decided to stick with it and share.   I share my pledges, most likely for my future self rather than for anyone else, although I hope you find some use or insight in my thoughts too.   I share these targets with clear understanding of how the last two years have been challenging, unpredictable and [forgive me for saying it] unprecedented, and the year ahead already looks like it will be no different.   But I will share my pledges nonetheless, albeit I may adjust my expectations accordingly.

So let’s get started:

Exercise and Health:

I have done very well in the last year with my exercising and general fitness and in particular with running.   My plan for this year is to try to maintain this, and to again manage 750km worth of running during the course of 2022.   Now I acknowledge this will very much be dependent on my health as illness will impact on my ability to run however, I think it’s a fair target.   I also note the maximum distance I have run to date in a single session has been 8km.   By the end of 2022 I would like to be able to complete a full 10km running session, even if this involves some periods in the session where I may slow to a walking pace.  

Another area I would like to work on this year is reducing my alcohol intake so managing a month period (so 30 or 31 days) without a beer.   I suspect this will be a challenge as for me a beer has always been key to relaxing or to helping with stress, however I am concious that reliance can have a negative impact on health.   As such I want to try to adjust what for me is a habit.

Wellbeing / Happy memories:

A key aspect when I reflect on the year past is those memories of positive or enjoyable events.   This year I want to build in more of these, so more occasions where I do something outside my normal.  This might simply be getting away for a break, or doing a new activity, or buying something memorable but the key thing is to generate positive memories which will come to mind when I look back on the year in the December 2022.     I have already started considering possible ideas here with a planned holiday already on the cards, and a possible idea to do something a bit different in Dec 2022.    That gives me at least 2 items but ideally, I want to have 6, so something to remember in each of every 2 month period.

Reading:

My reading has become a bit of a habit with 12 books minimum read per year, however it has become a habit which has lost some of the enjoyment and some of the learning, replaced by simply process.   I would like to get back to enjoying more of my reading this year and to again learning more.    As such I am only looking at reading 6 books this year but including some non-fiction in there for enjoyment and being more selective of the books I read for learning purposes.   I also need to be better at simply putting a book down where it isnt working for me.    I hope to look back in Dec 2022 and to have renewed my enjoyment in the reading I have done.

Contributing:

This is something I want to focus on this year, continuing my current contributions to Technology in Education and Education more generally but also to the IT sector as well possibly.    This will include my tweets and social media contributions, my blogs and my podcasts plus my involvement in different groups including the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME).    I also want to try to develop new opportunities and ways for me to contribute and share with others.

Work:

Lots gets done during year and I think that can be my problem in that I don’t, at the end of the year, quite appreciate all the work and effort that has gone into all that has been achieved.   As such this year I want to take regular breaks to stop and reflect on all that is achieved and on the work required to make these achievements actually happen.   Very seldom is any task in my role achieved simply, instead they involve meetings with stakeholders, planning time, implementation, faulting finding and problem solving, adjustment and evaluation.   I need to be more appreciative of this work, albeit it sits behind projects or tasks which appear simple when written down on a bulleted list of to-do items.

I think in my work life I am also seeking some new challenges.    For this I already have some thoughts and projects which will help here including a project in relation to contributing and sharing as mentioned earlier.   This very much comes down to me making things happen and is down to a bit of creativity and innovation on my part.

Conclusion

For the last couple of years three words have been in my thinking being prioritisation, entropy and reasonableness.   When I look back from Dec 2022 on these pledges, I aim to have these words in my mind to ensure that the pledges here do not unnecessarily add stress to the days, weeks and months ahead.   If I need to prioritise other things, over the above pledges, if the world, my role, etc changes unexpectedly or if the pledges become unreasonable in the context 2022, then not meeting them is fair and totally expected.   That said, for me anyway, having the pledges provides an insight on my thinking as it is today, for me to reflect on once I reach the end of the year.   It provides an outline for a planned direction, again for reflection, even if I end up not fulfilling some of the detailed actions.    For me anyway, I think there is more benefit in writing this than there is a risk of this causing unnecessary stress for myself.   But this is an individual decision we each need to reach.

2022 is another year.    2022 is another opportunity to feel positive about my efforts.   And so with this in mind, I need to make 2022 the year I want it to be; This makes me think of Covey’s circles;  I shouldn’t allow that which I cant control or change, my circle of concern, to impact on my happiness and sense of progress.   I should however focus on that which I can control or change, my circle of influence.    And with that in mind, its onwards and upwards!

A [honest] reflection on 2021

Firstly, let me say I am glad to see the back of 2021.   The end of the year has been very challenging, and not in a good way, including significant family health problems in December and a bout of Covid over Xmas.  Looking back at the year in general I find it difficult to actually find much positive to reflect on.   As such will just be glad to see 2021 draw to close and will have my fingers firmly crossed that 2022 will be a better year.

Beer anyone?

So, reflecting on my pledges seems like a good place to start in reviewing 2021.   Back in Jan 2021 I suggested having a dry January or at least 1 dry month, free of alcohol at some point during 2021.   I will admit I never got close to this and as the year draws to a close am drinking more.   I put some of this down to stress however also admit that a beer is one of the few vices I have so think it is fair to have at least some, hopefully balanced, drink based enjoyment and relaxation.   This, however, is something I want to address in 2022 although am not sure a dry January is possible.

Time for a book

My reading in 2021 continued with more than 12 books read across the year.   This has been a pattern now for a couple of years and I do wonder if now I am reading just to meet the target rather than for the enjoyment or to gain new insight or knowledge.   My reading has very much been non-fiction so this is something I need to consider.   I think maybe adding some fiction to my reading list, just to mix things up might be a good way forward.

Running man

If there was one area where I think I did reasonably well in 2021 it was in my running.   By the end of the year I had run over 750km during the year, way more than the 500km I predicted.   I think I am healthier for it.   I will admit my runs lacked much consistency although I did achieve consistency where it counted in simply getting out and running in the morning throughout most of 2021.   Going forward I may need to find some new running routes possibly or some other way to keep my running fresh and interesting rather than just a chore.

In need of a holiday

Again, the pandemic put paid to any breaks or holidays away so when I look back the year seems to have gone reasonably quickly.  I suspect this is largely due to everything becoming routine so lacking in any significant memorable moments in order to mark the passage of time throughout the year.   I suspect this further adds to my feeling of 2021 as a bad year for me as there is simply little to look back on where I am happy to have achieved something or have enjoyed a specific event, break or holiday.

Connecting and contributing

This year saw me start sharing some little 10min podcast episodes in addition to my usual blogging.   I had been considering doing this for some time but never got around to it until late on in 2021.  This is something I want to continue to produce and hopefully build on in future.     I also finally got back to a face to face conference, in the schools and academies show, where I presented an EdTech focussed session.   The other face to face conference I was due to be involved in, was sadly cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.     

2021 also saw a lost family contact reach out to me.   I had held off reaching out myself for reasons which are my own, however for them to reach out allowed contact to be established and hopefully this is something which can be slowly developed and worked on in 20222.

Take notice

I kept a journal over the course of 2021 and this is something I may reflect on in more detail in future.   I think if there is anything consistent that can be taken from my notes it’s a sense of frustration and a lack of progress.   I note I even mentioned feeling depressed with things on a number of occasions.   I think this about typifies the year as I see it.

Mental Health

This links to the point above.   A lot of 2021 felt like simply going through the motions.   It was busy.  Things got done.  But did I draw much enjoyment from things?   I think generally I didn’t.   It was generally “run of the mill” processes.   I wonder though whether the ongoing news broadcasting regarding the pandemic and the restrictive measures being put in place, and generally depressing news played into this, making me feel more depressed than I maybe had done in previous, non-pandemic, years.    I also wonder whether a certain amount of isolation on my part, with a limited friends group unlike when I lived in the UAE and had a large friends group, also plays its part here, only added to by the isolating impact of the pandemic.    I will admit that I need to consider my own mental health;   My exercising is part of it, however generating positive memorable moments, having enjoyable activities planned, and much more also goes into establishing positive mental health.   It may just be that doing this, in the current context of the UK and the world may just be that little bit more difficult.

Overall

When I look back to January 2021 I mentioned that I suspected 2021 was “Likely to start of[sic] challenging”.   I think the reality is that it didn’t merely start off challenging but continued to be challenging throughout the year, ending on a month of very significant challenges.   Am I happy on reflection with 2021?   Sadly, I think the answer is no.   It seemed to pass quickly which I believe suggests it was devoid of many memorable, positive moments.   If I was trying to sum it up in a phrase it might be that 2021 “wasn’t anything to write home about”.   I also acknowledge I considered myself depressed at various points in the year and this might colour my reflection.   I will also admit there were some positives, its just that they were subsumed in the general negativity of the year in general.

2022 is a new year.   It’s an opportunity to start afresh.   So with that, I will shortly close the door on 2021 and hopefully move forward into 2022 with an aim to make the year a better one.

Happy new year to all when it arrives and may you all have a great year, stay safe and remain well.

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