May reflections

It has been a few months since I last wrote a reflections post.   As such I thought it was about time I once again put things in writing for review by my future self.   In reviewing how things are going, I am going to make use of the titles from my pledges post to structure my thoughts.

Family Memories

It is apt that I write this reflection this week now the weather has been nice although I note that the current bank holiday weekend sees the predictable rain.   Last weekend, when it wasn’t raining, I spent time with the youngest playing football at the local football park.   A nice way to spend the day however am not as happy with the sunburn I ended up with.

Going forward we have also decided to book a family holiday.   It has been a number of years since we last did a family holiday so it is about time.  I am already looking forward to it as surely this will generate a whole range of family memories.

Professional Development (PD)

I think professional development is something which I am progressing well with.   On the IT side of things in particular this is driven by my CISSP and CISA certifications which both require a yearly amount of CPE (continual professional education) hours.   As such I am having to make sure that I get involved in some PD each month in order to meet the annual target and maintain the 2 certifications.

I have now decided to undertake a third certification in the ISACA’s Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control certification.   After some indecision I finally decided to move forward with this certification given my view that GDPR is best addressed through a risk based approach.   As such a certification which focussed on risk management seems like a logical choice.

I also continue to experiment and try new things including further developing my PowerBI skills, playing with a new MS Surface device on loan from Microsoft and also trying out new apps such as Microsoft Whiteboard.

Fitness

For those who may have read some of my past posts a need to work on fitness has been a long standing item; A long standing item but with very meagre, if any progress.   In the last couple of weeks I may have finally made some progress.    Basically I have started with getting up earlier on most mornings, and going for a 30min brisk walk.    The picture is from one such walk.   This is on top of my walk across campus each morning.  Looking at the data from my Fitbit device this change has meant that my average distance walked per day is steadily increasing as is my calories burned.    I have so far managed this for only three weeks so my challenge going forward is to turn the progress made into a sustained habit.    I suspect my next reflection blog will be telling as to my success or failure in this area.

Reading

I continue to be ahead of my book per month target for the year.   My hope is that the summer weather will make this something I can make significant progress in however I do note that my bookshelf is now lacking in books yet to read, so I will need to restock it at some point in the month ahead.

Journaling

I have made a reasonable habit of journaling now such that I am writing a weekly log of my thoughts and also the events of the week.    The habit is still relatively new so in some weeks I write on a Friday, on others a Saturday and occasionally on a Monday.    I need to ensure I keep journaling and I suspect I would benefit from being able to be consistent with when I do my journaling.

Work

The one thing I will say is that time seems to be rushing by.   We are now in the final term of the year and it feels like it has come around in a flash.   I feel things have been going well however it may be worth reflecting at the end of the academic year as to what has or has not been achieved.

May has seen a few tasks where I have had to overcome difficulties or obstacles.   This has been very frustrating at times however perseverance has brought about progress albeit slower than I would have liked.    The key thing I note is that the obstacles and frustrations come quickly to mind.  I need to take care that these predominant memories do not distort my perception of events.   There were some key wins and progress was made; this is the key factor.

I recently, also, conducted a little leadership survey.   I originally conducted a survey two years ago, after being in post for around 6 months.   It has been interesting to compare the results from them with now, 2 years further on.   The results show a slight positive improvement which is good however more important is the identification of a couple of areas to examine to try and bring about improvement.

As I reach half term I feel I have a large number of tasks which need to be addressed over the half term.  This has left me feeling a little overwhelmed at times.   I think the last week of May, the half term break, will be an opportunity to stop and reflect and re-establish which tasks truly are important and need to be prioritised as well as those tasks which either need to be delegated on simply not undertaken.

Conclusion

May has come and gone quickly as seems to be the way of things for a while now.   I feel I continue to make progress and after much procrastination, I am particularly pleased with my progress on personal fitness.   I feel that as I move towards the end of the 2017/18 academic year I need to re-establish that which is truly important particularly in my work, focusing on these areas.   I wonder if the reason that time seems to be passing so quickly is simply due to not prioritising.   May has seen some frustrations, some difficulties but ultimately seen positive progress.

Onwards and upwards……….

Advertisements

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.

Fitness

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.

Reading

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.

Journaling

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”!

2017, a month by month review

Before 2017 ends I thought it might be useful to reflect on the year on a month by month basis.   On reflection it may have been better to review each month at the end of the month as opposed to trying to remember back at the end of the year.    I am well aware of how our memory often betrays us when looking back over any period of time.    Thankfully I did have a journal to review however my entries were far from regular or consistent.    So, below is 2017 in monthly:

January

The BETT conference was an important part of January.   This year I had gone with a very specific plan as to the vendors I wanted to see along with the various seminars and presentations I wanted to see in the single day I intended to attend the BETT event.    As it was I found it to be a very busy and successful day in which I picked up a number of thoughts and ideas.   Sadly, although the event itself was very successful my trip back to Somerset turned out to be a little fraught following car issues in the form of a faulty battery.  My drive back to Somerset was therefore plagued with worries of my car giving out on the motorway or worse of losing my cars lights driving on country roads as daylight was disappearing during my journey home.

February

I cannot remember back to February and what I undertook during this period.   From my journal logs it was quite a productive period in terms of meetings attended and progress made however nothing jumps out at me as something achieved during this period.   Maybe this is inevitable that some period will be filled with the work required to underpin future achievement, without there being any discernible achievement during that period.   One thing of note for February however is the fact I surprised my wife for Valentine’s day.   I have never been one for Valentines gifts or making a big thing of this overly commercialized event, however in a bid to show my wife how much she means to me I decided that I would make a special effort.    It is important that I consider making such gestures a more regular event, not requiring of a specific national day such as valentine’s day.

March

March saw me present at ICT Conference 2017 at King Edward VI School in Southampton.   My topic was that of ICT policy and practice and in particular the 10 main challenges as I saw them at that time.    I wouldn’t say my presentation was anything near my best given the scope of the topic however I found it a worthwhile activity and it was particularly useful to get feedback from attendees on the challenges as they saw them at that time.

April

In April I actually took a little of quality time for myself, taking time to sit in the garden when the weather was nice, sipping a beer and reading a good book.    This needs to be something I do more often however I do note that my reflections at the time were that I didn’t achieve much during this period.   A bit of chill time isn’t something which normally comes to mind when we reflect on achievements and it is only through reviewing some of my journal logs from this period that I am now even able to identify that I found this time to chill in April.

May

I turned another year older in May and as with April managed to spend some time chilling but also spend some time outside with my son playing football.    Good weather doesn’t occur as often in the UK as it did while I was living in the UAE.    As such it is important to prioritize and use good weather as an opportunity to spend time outside with my son and also my wife.   This needs to be something I remember for future.   There will be plenty opportunities in winter to write or do other indoor activities however in April and May are the best opportunities for getting outdoor with the kids and family.

June

During June I attended the MovingOnEd event.   For the first time this allowed me to meet Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) and Kate Jones (@87History) who previously I had only conversed with online via twitter.   As it turned out Kate lives in Al Ain in the UAE where I had lived for a number of years.   We apparently even lived there during the same period time before I moved back to the UK.    At the event I also had the opportunity to meet with Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) and get a signed copy of his book Learning with E’s.

July

July saw me board a plane to return to Glasgow for the first time in almost 2 years, and only for the 2nd time in almost 10 years.    The reason for return was that of the funeral of my Gran.    I can’t help but think of the phrase “matches, hatches and dispatches” in reference to the only occasions when the family come together as a whole.    It is important to consider the finite nature of our lives and therefore the need to make the best of what we have.   A part of this for me will be ensuring I make time to visit my own parents more regularly which has been something I find to be a challenge given they still live in Glasgow while I now live in Somerset.  This is something I need to consider and action in future.

August

The final preparations for the new academic year were undertaken during August.    As such it was a busy period and as a result I didn’t record much of what happened during that period.    The only thing I am aware of was starting to making use of Buffer as a service to help me manage my social media interactions.

September

September saw the start of a new academic year and a particularly difficult project in the form of changing the schools Mobile Device Management Solution.    As a 1:1 school from year 7 upwards, a change in the MDM would impact on a large number of students and staff and therefore the change was not without risk.  Having considered the risk associated with the change, along with the risk associated with remaining with the then current solution it was decided to make the change with the preparation work done during the summer.   Although the prep work had been done the true test was always going to be when the staff and students returned.   As it was the change went well and we managed to start the process of getting students onto the MDM albeit with one or two issues with individual students.   This process then continued throughout the term with the percentage of students on the MDM being steadily increased towards the targeted enrollment figure of 90% or more students.

October

I attended the ISMG Fraud and Breach Prevention summit in London during October.   I found this two day conference to be excellent with lots to take away in relation to IT cyber security.   The event included a number of high level presentations including contributions from the UK Metropolitan Police and the FBI to name but two.    The main take away I remember from the event was one presenter commenting on how he had predicted correctly that this year had been worse than the previous one in relation to cyber security, breaches, challenges around cyber security and cyber threats.   He went on to rather bleakly predict the year ahead is likely to see a continuation of the trend with things getting worse still.   I tend to agree.

November

November saw me finally complete on the purchase on a house followed by the traumatic task of actually moving from our rented accommodation into our new home.   A number of issues which I wont go into during which various service providers did not cover themselves in glory made the experience all the more traumatic.    After 10 years in rented or provided accommodation I am just glad to once again be able to consider the place I sleep at night and wake in the morning as “Home”.

December

December saw me finally sit the CISSP exam for which I had been studying for a significant part of the year.   I went into the exam feeling as if I had done everything I possibly could however also feeling that I would still fall short of the 70% pass mark.     As I finished the exam and left the booth in which I took the computer based test, I felt I would not pass given the number of questions where I had to arrive at my chosen answer via a process of elimination as opposed to knowing the answer to the question.    Much to my surprise the letter handed to me following the test indicated I had passed.    I must admit to being surprised however also happy that the work that went into studying must have paid off.   I tended towards allocating the pass to luck whereas the woman on the front desk at the test centre, the woman who handed me the results letter, suggested I should attribute my success to hard work and study.

2017 has been a busy year and sitting here at the end of it, it feels as if it has flown by.   I am sure there were many challenging points in the year when the flight of time did not feel so swift.  That said, I think it has been a good year with a fair number of achievements or memorable events to list.   Here’s to 2018 and sitting down in a years time with an even bigger list of memorable moments from the year.

 

Thoughts on time

During the last month or so I haven’t been making the same contributions to my #PLN in the same way as I had earlier in the year.   My contributions to twitter dropped.   My blog posts reduced significantly in frequency.    My writing and submitting articles to magazines such as UkEdChat slowed.    Now this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it bothered me, I was concerned by the fact I no longer seemed to have the time to get these things done.    Where was the time going?

An easy answer might be to suggest the initial phases of the academic year were busy and therefore time was being spent on on work related tasks with blogging, etc. being prioritized as less important and therefore being provided with significantly less on my time.    The difficulty with this answer is that I felt concerned by my lack of blogging, etc. which suggests that I considered it important enough to allocate more time to than I was doing.   This seems to run contrary to my easy answer.

Time is often an issue in education; there isn’t enough time.    The issue with this statement is that the logical response to not having enough of something is to try to get more of it.    Unless someone has invented time travel I am at a loss to see how we might achieve this with time; the amount of time we have in a day, week, month and year is fixed.

Maybe a better statement is therefore “I need to use my time better”.    This is a less likely statement to make as it focuses on my actions.   It is my actions that are the issue as opposed to an external factor such as the lack of available time.    It is more difficult to state this as it highlights and acknowledges ineffectiveness in myself.    Acknowledging your own personal inadequacies is never easy.    On reflection this seems to fit my current situation, the issue is either my management of time or my perception of how I am managing time; time itself isn’t to blame.

We talk about not having enough time to get done what needs to be done as if time was a variable and the tasks we need to accomplish were fixed.    As I have indicated above time is not variable, it is fixed.     It is our use of time which is variable, ranging from highly effective to highly ineffective and even wasteful.   The further complicating matter surrounds the time taken to do tasks.    We see this as fixed when in fact it is not, especially when we are operating without boundaries of time.   Our spending of time on a task expands or contracts into the time we have available.    If we have 1 hour to do something we will get it done in that hour however if we have a break of 30mins following this hour the task may flow into this break period and effectively take up 1 hour 30mins of our valuable time.    Unallocated time gets absorbed.   This is even more the case where we are really engaged by a task, by what Csíkszentmihályi describes as flow.    During flow we lose all track of time so hours can pass without our awareness.

Well for now, I have at least contributed this post so will feel a little happier as to my online contributions at least in the short term.    It remains to be seen whether in the longer term I will need to review how I am managing my time or review my expectations as to what I will achieve with the available time.

 

 

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!