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.

Advertisement

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.

EdTech beyond the lockdowns

I thought, following my recent panel discussion at the Schools an Academies Show in London I would write a short post on my thoughts on the 3 key questions posed as part of the session.

Delivering the curriculum beyond the physical classroom: how can schools effectively implement hybrid learning plans?

Some schools have been doing this for some time, using the flipped classroom for example.    The issue is it needs to work for your school, your context, staff, and students.   It needs to work for your hardware and infrastructure, etc, so just because an approach worked in other schools doesn’t mean you can simply pick up that solution and replicate it in your school.    So, for me it’s about experimenting a little, and taking it slow.   A large part of effective hybrid learning, is the same as traditional face to face learning, and about building up effective learning habits and routines, but this takes time;  We need to allow for this time.   Use what has been learnt over lockdown as to what worked and didn’t work in your school and go from there.   But yes, look at other schools and what appears to work, but pick carefully at the elements of their practice that you wish to implement, and then give these approaches time to embed before seeking to advance further.   And make sure to engage the teachers, students and parents in planning.

Do we finally have enough proof of the pedagogical efficacy of EdTech?

Given the variety of uses of edtech, edtech products, planned outcomes (e.g. academic, or soft skills, global awareness, etc), staff skills, equipment level, student tech skills, etc it is difficult to assess general efficacy accurately.   As I wrote in my last post, it is a bit like assessing the efficacy of a bunch of hand tools, including some hammers, screwdrivers, hand drills and saws.   Their efficacy depends very much on what they are being used for (e.g., using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail) and the skill level of the user, that of a DIY’er or an expert craftsperson.  As such I am not sure what value there is in the question, given the large number of variables involved.   I also note that the more variables involved the greater the likelihood of high levels of variation in results from different research studies plus a tendency for the generalised results to regress towards the mean, and a likely insignificant impact being suggested.   I therefore believe we need to look at a different question, and whether EdTech has the potential to bring about positive improvements or impact in teaching and learning.   Her I believe we already have proof that when used well, it can have a positive impact.   We also have proof that without it learning during a pandemic wouldn’t have been possible, or not to the extent that was achieved.   And we can see we now live in an increasing technological world.   So, if the core of the original question is do we have evidence to support the continued use and required investment in Edtech, I would say yes.

How can leaders empower educators to discover the potential of technology in teaching?

This is about sharing and the organisational culture in my view.  Establishing opportunities for people to share ideas and what worked as well as seeking support on what didn’t.   It is also about encouraging sharing beyond the school using the various sources out there such as Apple Distinguished educators or Microsoft innovative educator experts.   For me twitter is often the go to place and I have heard it described as “the best staffroom in the world”.    So the sharing gets the ideas as to things to try, and then they need to be put into practice and this is where culture and climate come into play.   The climate of the school has to be warm and supportive, and the culture open, thereby empowering people to try things in the knowledge that, they may not work as planned, but where they don’t this simply serves as a learning experience to be shared to help the collective teaching and student body move forward.   In all my years working in education, and using EdTech, or simply technology in education, I have tried lots of different approaches, apps and other tools, with some working well and some not so well.  The key has been I have been lucky to work in schools and colleges which were supportive of these attempts, the potential for them to bring about improvements, but also the acceptance that some might not work.    Now obviously this isnt about throwing out a new app for all students in a school to use and running the risk of a negative experience for all students, but more about piloting and trialling with small groups where, should things don’t work, it is easy to discontinue the trial and recovery or address any negative impact.    Looking back to the question, the key words are discovery and empower;   This requires experimentation, people to feel valued and supported to innovate, the need to share so experiences are collective across staff/students rather than limited to a given teacher or class, plus there needs to be acceptance that the discovery made might simply be that a given tool or approach doesn’t work for your students.

Conclusion

I think the pandemic has both shown the importance of technology in education, plus has helped move schools and colleges forward, driven by the immediate need of the pandemic.    Now the pandemic is (hopefully) receding, we now need to build the intrinsic need and want to continue the development of the use of technology in schools.    It also needs to be something not just put in place now, but something sustainable in the longer term, so a simple purchase of infrastructure and devices in the coming months or year is insufficient if it isnt backed up with a plan for ongoing upgrade and replacement into the future.     I suspect we now stand at the point where the rubber band may be stretched, encouraging a tendency for us to start to rebound back to the “way things were before the pandemic”, so it is now, more than ever, important that we push forward.

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 [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.

End of term 1, 2021/22

And so the first term of 2021/22 has came to a close.   As such I thought I would share some short reflections on the term.   I am also going to share some reflections on the year as a whole in a later post, but for now I would like to focus on the term.

The first thing I will admit is that time has flown by.  I can’t quite believe it is now the 19th December as I sit and write this, and that the first term of 2021/22 has already came to an end.

September 2021

As the start of the new academic year approached, the pandemic impacted on my IT services team, with a bit of a “pingdemic” resulting in a number of staff self-isolating, awaiting PCR tests.   Thankfully everyone came back clear and this happened before the year began.    This year saw me join the school Executive Group meetings.    This should therefore help me in the ability to see what strategic decisions are being taken at an early stage.   It will also help in giving me a forum to raise cyber security concerns at a senior staff level.    I also contributed to The Access Group’s Access All Areas programme, delivering a talk on cyber security in schools.

September saw the first of the schools IT Management Group meetings, a meeting which I chair.   The first meeting quickly showed how busy the start of term was, as I repeatedly called a member of staff the wrong name during the meeting.  Clearly my head was a little bit turned.   I was so embarrassed by this, and disappointed in myself.

October 2021

Stepped in to run one of the schools esports sessions given the normal staff member was self isolating.   Had significant help from the technician on my team who has been great in getting everything setup and in supporting our esports provision.   It was nice to once again get in amongst students playing competitive games, something I used to do some years ago when I worked in colleges.  Following the session I have decided to explore running further sessions as part of the schools activities programme to try and support and grow our esports provision, with this hopefully starting in the new term, in January.

I also spent a reasonable amount of time this month discussing with individuals I wanted to join me on a conference panel session focussing on cyber security in schools.  This included an ethical hacker, a representative from the NCSC and also a representative from the ICO among others.   Sadly, the conference was later cancelled due to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

Related to the above I also spent time generating some short 4 or 5 minute videos focussing on Digital Citizenship and cyber security for use with staff and students.   I have finally learned not to spend too much time getting videos perfect and not accepting minor errors or “ums” and “ahs”;   The video just needs to be good enough.    By accepting this I am now able to produce the required videos much quicker.

November 2021

Intermittent issues with the schools core network switches were a growing issue in November.  The issue had started towards the end of September however progress to identify the issue and resolve had been slow, largely due to wanting to avoid downtime associated with more aggressive investigation of the issue.   By November, the fact that the issue hadnt been resolved, may having been starting to give some people questions as to my competence, and I will admit I was beginning to worry too, however towards the end of the month this issue was considered resolved and I think the decision making, to avoid any more substantial downtime was proven to be the correct one.    Often the only way we will know if IT decisions are correct is in the future when we look back, so decision making in the moment can be difficult and unclear.

For a while now we have been hearing of Wi-Fi issues in some school locations however the info which comes to us largely lacks the detail to allow us to investigate and diagnose the issue.   As such I decided to take a different approach and started pulling data from our Wi-Fi solution on a hourly basis, to get a more general picture of its health.   By the end of the month, we had significant volumes of data where the results, although not eliminating the existence of issues specific to a small minority of students, highlight that Wi-Fi generally functions well for the majority of students.

I visited the Schools and Academies Show in order to present at the co-located EdTech Summit event.   The show itself was a little bit like a small version of BETT.   The main benefit of the event for me was simply the ability to once again meet people in person, so gave me an opportunity to touch base with a number of ANME members among others.    Sadly, as normal, my journey wasn’t without drama as I managed to get on the wrong train at one point!   Normal service was resumed.

December 2021

A family issue took a fair part of…..no, actually, all of my focus, through a good part of December.   This included a trip to A&E followed by 8 hours there including attempting to get some sleep while sat upright on a stool.   Not the best experience.

Had also been exploring a possible Board level advisory position alongside my Director of IT position.   The university concerned was looking for someone with a focus on cyber security so this seemed like an ideal opportunity for me however upon review they sadly decided that I wasn’t quite what they were looking for.   I will admit that this disappointed me as the opportunity looked like it would be an ideal and slightly different challenge for me.   As such I need to continue looking for whatever my next challenge might be.

Conclusions

It has been a busy and challenging first term.    Combined with this I have had personal challenges to deal with plus some disappointment.    I feel this has left me feeling a bit drained and down at times with Xmas music on the radio being the last thing I needed to be hearing, despite the fact it is now almost Xmas.   Looking back, despite the challenges I have managed to progress through them and to achieve a number of things which I should be happy or even proud of.    I think I need a break and to decompress, and that will be the main focus for the Xmas period.    After this I should be ready to begin again, to begin afresh, when the spring term begins in January.

And so to all I wish a very Merry Xmas and all the best for the new year!

EdTech Summit 2021

It was March 2020 and I was attending the JISC DigiFest conference in Birmingham.  Little did I know that this would be the last face to face conference I would attend for over 1 ½ years, and it would November 2021 before I would once again venture to Birmingham this time for the EdTech Summit and Schools and Academies Show.   Reflecting back, it was to a year and a half of significant challenges but also massive progress in how technology is used in schools.

My trip to Birmingham this time was to present a session on the role of IT leads and IT teams in schools in supporting the use of technology to enable, enhance and even transform teaching and learning.    It was also going to be a chance to catch up with staff from other schools face to face for the first time in quite some time.    Notable in the catch ups were a group of ANME members plus Dave Leonard, Abid Patel, Osi Ejiofor and Tony Sheppard among others.

As to the event itself, a couple of messages or themes came out for me in the various talks I attended:

Investment

This was mentioned in the ministerial opening speech at the start of the schools and academies show.    Additional funding for schools.    For me some of this clearly needs to go into investment in technology to ensure we are ready for a future event like the current pandemic, but also to equip our students for the future and to allow schools to make use of technology to enhance and even reimagine the learning experiences students receive.    And linked to this point is the need for sustainability such that any technology put into schools has the required investment in the longer term to ensure the training, support and eventual replacement of hardware/software is all planned.

Collaboration

The importance and power of collaboration within schools and also between schools and other educational establishments was mentioned by a number of individuals.    I suspect the pandemic has encouraged collaboration as people share their experiences, their successes and challenges, along with their resources online for others to benefit from.   This is something we need to actively encourage and support going forward.    The best training is just in time training, and the best just in time training results from 1000’s of educators and school staff sharing and collaborating through the medium of technology.

Agility

The pandemic proved that schools, which generally are slow to change, can be more agile and change quickly to adapted to changing situations.    The pandemic forced such change.   Going forward though we need to be better at change, we need to be better at accepting “good enough” and we need to be like industry and seek greater agility.

Conclusion

As always I suffered my usual travel mishap as is customary, this time being rushing between trains following a train delay, and then managing to get on the wrong train.   This is the usual pain but on reflection the pain was worth it.   I got the chance to catch up with other IT and EdTech professionals, discussing a variety of matters, I got the opportunity to share my thoughts with an audience and to discuss my thoughts with a number of individuals following the session and I got to have a look at a variety of product offerings from various IT vendors.    I also benefited from the act of presenting which forced me to carefully think through and structure my thoughts in relation to technology and teaching and learning.  

Roll on BETT 2022;   See you there!

IT Services: Week 1 of the new academic year

The first week of a new academic year is probably one of the busiest periods of the year for IT teams in schools and colleges across the UK and also the world.  Here we have seen a 10% increase in calls logged, when compared with last year and that excludes countless walk-ins and telephone calls where the resolution was quick and therefore never logged.   Comparing last week with the previous year average, last week is around twice the volume.    So why is it so busy?

Returning staff and students

The first week sees all your returning staff and students once again logging on and accessing school systems.   One of the challenges though is that it may have been 2 months ago or more that they last logged in.    This means there is always several forgotten passwords or queries about how to use a particular system or find a particular report.   For some reason printers and copiers in particular make frequent appearance on IT call logs at the start of term.

The need for Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) also throws some challenges in here, where staff have bought new phones, and where their old phone was setup for MFA.    This then requires support is provided to setup MFA on their new device.

System Changes

Although teaching staff may be on holiday over summer, a lot of the IT upgrade work occurs during this period.   This means that teaching staff may come back to slightly changes in the IT setup and processes.    You can never underestimate the impact even the slightest change will have on some users.    As such, the likely system changes conducted during summer contribute to a busy first week as staff need to adjust and build new habits.

And it isnt only schools which make changes; Some EdTech vendors will also take the opportunity to upgrade or update their platforms.  Again, this will cause some users difficulties leading to a “quick” call to IT.   Occasionally this can cause big issues where changes don’t go according to a vendors plan, resulting in service disruption.    Sadly, this is largely out of IT Services control however that won’t stop users directing their frustrations and annoyance towards the IT team.

New students and staff

I have already mentioned the challenge of returning users having forgotten how things work or how to do things, but then there are the new staff and students for whom the school’s setup, systems and processes are totally new.    Despite whatever training or support they have been provided, they are likely to need support; During their opening weeks they will likely need to learn so many new things, from school processes, staff names, their way around site, etc, and as such it won’t all stick, and where its an IT issue that doesn’t stick, it’s a likely call to the IT services or support team.

Last Minutes changes

We always hope things have been planned in advance, but each new academic year brings with it plans or ideas which were only agreed or decided upon recently just before the year begins, thereby requiring last minute actions.    This is often very frustrating, as despite some of these ideas and initiatives having value, the worst time from an IT point of view to make changes or try to implement new things in a hurry is the start of the new academic year when you are already under pressure. 

Conclusion

The start of the new academic year is always going to be busy.   I am not sure there is much we can do about this as most of the factors listed above are unavoidable.    I think the best we can do is to look to those areas which are avoidable and seek to do just that and avoid them.   We also need to carefully find ways to mitigate issues through providing JIT (Just-In-Time) training resources and directing users to these.   If you can empower users to solve their own issues as much as possible IT teams can then focus on the issues which need their support and where users cannot resolve themselves. Developing ways that teaching and support staff can share ideas, difficulties, etc, among themselves can be an important solution here.   We have an EdTech Mutual support team for example where staff can share questions or issues, with other staff then able to provide the solutions, workarounds, etc.   I will note this is also a good resource for IT teams as it gives insight into the issues and on occasions gives us solutions which we hadnt considered.    The need for prioritisation is also important, to focus on the jobs which have the biggest impact.  This requires users be understanding to the limited resources IT teams, no matter how big they are, will have.    

In conclusion, if I was to end with just one message it would be, be kind and considerate to your IT services and support teams at the start of the new academic year.    This is a very very busy time for them, much as it is for most school or college staff, however they may have also been busy throughout the summer.  

Well done to the IT people in schools and colleges around the world;  By the time you read this most of you will have survived the first week (and maybe the second) of yet another academic year!   Keep up the great work!

2020, the year with the pandemic

It’s been a year that I don’t think anyone will be forgetting in a hurry.   In my 26 years working in education, including my 4 years training, I have never experienced anything like it.  As such am hoping my review of 2020 might be something I find myself looking back on at some point in the future.   2020, the year with the pandemic.

The year started of normally with January including the usual BETT event that I briefly attended, plus an EdTech conversations event which I had the privilege to speak at.   I must admit I enjoyed the EdTech conversations event in particular, with my visit to BETT a little bit rushed plus, to be honest, I now find BETT to be similar year to year and lacking in any new ideas.   Obviously, my journey to London had its usual missteps and calamities as seem to regularly befall me when I travel by train.  This almost goes without saying.

In March I found myself in Birmingham speaking at the Digifest event.  This was an excellent event with the signs of the pandemic just starting to show in hand sanitising stations and the lack of the usual handshake welcomes at the conference.   Will admit my presentation was far from my best however overall, I found the event to be both useful and interesting. This is definitely an event I would like to revisit.

As we approached the half term, in school, we had to accelerate our training and support for staff in relation to using Microsoft Teams as it became likely that schools would be forced to close.   Teams had been identified as the key tool in continuing to support learning during lockdown, allowing resources to be shared but also supporting synchronous lessons.    Thankfully we had already started using Teams mainly in an administrative capacity for teaching and support departments, so we already had some training resources plus understanding as to how to use Teams.    For me personally, it made me glad that I had been pushing for moving to the cloud and to Office 365, as it put us in a position to quickly move to online teaching when the lockdown kicked in.   It does make me believe, in education, we need to be braver about our decision making and pursuing what we believe to be the right direction.   Too often decisions are overthought and overanalysed to the point that no action, and therefore no progress is made.   Yes, education is important, yes we want to avoid making the wrong decisions, but if 2020 has proven anything it has proven we cannot predict the future, so we therefore need to braver and avoid being paralysed or slow to progress, and focussing too much on predicting and planning in minute detail in an unpredictable world.   Only then can we provide students with the skills, the knowledge and the character traits needed for the future.

And in late March the lockdown did just that, kicking in, and forcing a move to online teaching and to remote working.   It was strange finding myself at home day in day out, working from my PC with the only social contact outside of the family being via Teams video calls.   This period highlighted that working from home was possible and even beneficial in some situations, however also highlighted that equally face to face interactions are beneficial and even required in other situations.   From a teaching point of view, I still believe face to face is the best way to deliver teaching and learning, however that this can be augmented and supported through the use of technology, online teaching and online learning.  Its about finding a balance.

The period from March to August was hard, as we ran with a reduced IT Services department, supporting teachers delivering online teaching largely from their own homes.    It was made harder by the lack of the social interaction which would normally occur in our office, where members of the team would support and encourage each other, and occasionally have a laugh.    Remote working didn’t quite provide for this and it made everything feel that much more difficult and draining.   Additionally, working at home without driving too and from work led to the distinction between being at home or at work, being eroded.   This led to work bleeding into home time, and also a difficulty for me in turning off in the evenings and on taking time for myself and for family. Will be honest and say I previously have always struggled with turning it off, however the pandemic and working from home only amplified this issue.

August was meant to see our long-awaited family trip to the US, something we had wanted to do for a large number of years and something we had finally booked to prevent us once again missing out.   Sadly, despite booking and making the plan concrete, Covid19 had other ideas and the trip never happened.   This was a big disappointment.

September saw the launch of the new academic year and getting students back on site but where there would be occasions where some students would be attending lessons online.   This was the birth of the “hybrid” lesson.     For me this was also a return to more regular teaching as I took on a couple of year 9 classes in addition to my lower 6 sessions.   September as the start of new academic year is often a very busy period but this year it was significantly busier and more challenging.  

During September I would receive an unexpected offer in relation to a new job role.   It would be weeks and weeks of exploring the options, of stress, of will we or wont we as the opportunity would have once again taken me and my family abroad.   The idea of a return to expat life was definitely appealing however the context of a global pandemic was far from ideal.   This was one of the most difficult decisions I feel I have had to make in recent years however having considered my family I eventually decided the option in hand was a great option however sadly presented itself at the wrong time.  It is interesting, when looking back to my pledges at the start of 2020, I mentioned seeking a new challenge and this would certainly have been it;  Sadly this therefore was the right opportunity but clearly at the wrong time.

September also saw me undertake a challenge to complete 100km of running within the month as part of an online group.   Must admit am really happy with myself for managing to complete this challenge as it meant running 5 or 6 days within each week.   This was way more in terms of health and fitness than I had achieved before so I am very proud to have been able to stick at and complete the target.  Sadly, I then let things slip in October and November however I again started to run in December and hope to build up once again into 2021. 

October saw me come down with a cough and temperature which instantly got me worried re: covid19.  Thankfully the NHS testing service was excellent and I quickly got a test and my results back, indicating a negative;   It was a common cold rather than the corona virus.   It still took it out of me and led to a couple of days off ill.   I suspect the stress of the job offer and the cold/wet mornings running throughout September all played their part in me coming down with a cold and my resultant lack of energy.

As we progressed into November and December I was involved in an esports project to try and launch an interschools competition among independent schools like ours.   Its all in its infancy at this point, with a small number of schools planning to partake in the initial pilot however am hoping that after a successful pilot in the spring term it may be possible to grow this project.   Esports is something I am passionate about as there are many opportunities out there for our students, plus this area is only going to grow in the coming years.

November also saw the introduction of a puppy to the family. This was another things which had been discussed for many years but for which I was reluctant. With everything that has happened I relented and Ziva joined the family initially a shy puppy before becoming the devil dog she now is. If it can be ripped to shreds, scratched, eaten, chewed, etc, then it has been, and all while maintain a cute, butter would melt in my mouth outward appearance. Am not sure if we are training the dog or she is training us.

Christmas has now came and went and as I am my son have often reflected, it didn’t feel very Christmasy this year.   I suspect this is due to the year as a whole lacking some of the normal markers of a year such as a holiday away or the clear distinction between working and being on holiday;   Its not very different when your working day involves being at home all day, in the same way as your holidays, with little options available for activities due to lockdown.

2020 for me was meant to be about balance or at least that what I decided when I wrote my pledges back in January.    Looking back 2020 has been anything but balanced.   Its been crazy, its been frantic and ever changing.  Its been some year, a year which looking back seems to have disappeared in a blur, its been the year with a pandemic in it.    I suspect things will be different as we move into 2021, with some changes for the better however others less so.    This is a year I don’t think I will be forgetting anytime soon.

2020, the one with the pandemic!

My decade in pictures

I am planning to write a reflection on the last decade however recently while sorting out some photo libraries the idea of sharing a photo log of my last decade came to me.  Now I note I dont have photos for everything which may have been worthy of inclusion but I think there is enough to make it worthwhile.    Have included only a caption for each photo and no other explanation.

2010:

2011:

2011 - National Day
UAE National Day, 2011

2013:

2014:

2015:

2016:

2016 - Xmas Elves
Santa and some Christmas elves

2017:

2017 - New House
A new home

2018:

2018 - Starting Couch25K
The views on my first attempts at Couch to 5K

2019:

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: