Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Reflections on Inspire NI ICT conference

It's been a long day.
It's been one of those days where many different thoughts and ideas have been swirling around in my head.
One of those days where you don't really get the chance to finish a thought or to think through implications.

The context for me for this conference was maybe a little different from usual.   I am trying to think some deep thoughts about the next step for ICT in my own school.   I am also trying to think about how we can continue to motivate students.   I am trying to think about how we prepare our students for the world of work.   How do we prepare them for life after school?   What are the jobs that people will be going into?   Where are the spaces?   What are the subjects and skills that match up?

I've read the most recent labour force report for the next 10 years.   It is not easy reading for someone who works in a post primary secondary school.  Basically, jobs are becoming more skilled and more 'niche' than ever before and so offering a broad balance of subjects is more important.    Yet, most of my Y10 lads want to be game designers.   Fine.  No problem with that dream but they know little of what it actually takes to get there.

I'm also increasing frustrated by the seemingly ever-increasing digital divide within education in NI.  It seems that Grammar schools can afford the technology to grow.  They can invest and they can go into partnerships with parents to pay for and buy new digital devices which, when used properly, can make a difference.   Though, I am also increasingly convinced that for this to work effectively means that 1:1 programmes are the only way to go.   I just wish that I could do something like that in my school.   But we can't.  Education budgets are tight and the socio-economic background of our catchment means that there is not a lot of spare cash floating about.   Maybe that is a handy excuse - but the reality is that sometimes you just have to make do (and make do well) with what you've got!

I like thinking about where education is going.   I like technology and how it can be used in the classroom.  I always enjoy listening to Stephen Heppell and his meanderings on learning and the role that technology can play within a less formal framework.  I enjoyed listening to Tim Rylands who reminded me that sometimes, just sometimes to go with the fun activity and see where it goes.   I need to be reminded about that sometimes.  When you spend most of your day trying to solve problems and think strategically - it is easy to forget that students want to enjoy school.   What am I doing to facilitate that?

I suppose one of the most important takeaways for me was the reminder that maybe we need to be doing more in relation to student safety online and parent education in relation to this.   Its something I need to come back to and something that need to be done to ensure that students are equipped to deal with whatever could be going on behind the scenes.  

It was great to say hello to a few old friends, to swop stories and to make a few new friends and contacts as well along the way.   Well done to the C2K and Capita team who put it all together.   Its never easy to get the right balance in something like that.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Whose responsibility is digital literacy?

Its a big question, isn't it?
Who has the responsibility for delivering digital literacy to our kids?
What even does this question mean?
I must admit that I had forgotten recently the fixation that educators in the USA have for all things to do with digital literacy.  During a recent trip I got reminded of the importance of this.   I really did not expect this - it was sort of an osmosis that crept up on me as I spent time with other educators and chatted about what the future of ICT use and uptake might be in the future.

As a dad and as a school leader I do thing about what sort of digital legacy we leave with our children.  Unfortunately at present many schools have one set policy for ICT.   One device to rule them all - whether this is a PC, a 1:1 iPad or tablet programme or Chromebooks etc.   But, if a school dedicates themselves to one device, one Operating System and one way of doing things - is this what is best for the individual student.   Surely we should be teaching students how to mix it up between the difference devices and franchises.   Surely we should be training kids to be able to make choices about what is the best device for the job they are doing.   Surely we should be encouraging them to use the tools of ICT in such a way that they are able to select the right tool for the right job.

Is it the main responsibility of the school or the parent to engage in digital literacy education.   Actually, I think its a bit of both BUT I have to admit that I think parents have more responsibility for this than teachers and schools.   My daughter's first phone was one of my old phones.  First a Nokia, then my old iPhone 3.  I bought her a brand new Samsung Galaxy Ace when she moved to big school.   In my head I was thinking that there was no harm in mixing up the Android platform  - it would let her see how other systems worked.  Big mistake.  The phone (well actually I think it was more the service provider) was rubbish.   One year into a 2 year contract I bought her a new iPhone.  
What she can do on that iPhone is amazing.   She knows and has learnt how to use that phone in a way that I can only dream about.   Certainly, my job is to ensure that she is using her phone safely and appropriately - and we have a few systems in place in our family to monitor this.  She has an iPad too but I suppose the next step for me is to challenge her away from a dependence on Apple and Microsoft products and to look at other systems and cloud based opportunities.  

Its all about matching the tool with the job.   If I want to teach my kids to share a document with one person - we will use Microsoft.   If i want to share with 10 people at the same time - we will use Google.   If I want to edit a movie I will use Apple iMovie.   If I want to write an app - we will use android.  

The real shape of digital literacy in the future is allowing students to be able to move between computers, between platforms and between operating systems.   That is why cloud based support and memory is ever increasingly important and why we need to get this sorted out across education in NI.        To support digital literacy is not a one-size-fixes all thing but it is making sure that schools have a variety of devices and tools that teachers know how to use to their strengths.  

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Danger of Disaffection

Its my 21st year as a teacher.  Disaffection is something that I have battled with through my teaching career.  Not me, you understand, but the disaffection that sometimes you come across in students.   Its a difficult thing to deal with.   It sometimes makes me very cross.   It sometimes makes me get involved in discussions with students that I really shouldn't.  Too often students challenge what they are doing and why they are doing it.  

'Why should I do this subject?'
 'Why do I have to do this homework?'  
'Why should I care if I only get a grade D or E?'

As a teacher (and school leader) - its frustrating.  At our core, we are trying our best to push students so that they can achieve the best results that they are capable of achieving.   To find the resistance coming from the very students you are trying to help, just makes things even more difficult.   To some extent I do expect to have to push some students over the line.   I do my best to encourage students, to   support them, to build them up, to develop a positive relationship so that they know that I am on their side and wanting the best for them.   But sometimes, you come across students who have shut down and who just don't want any help.   What can you do?   Do you keep up the fight?   Do you give up and concentrate your energies on the ones who are likely to appreciate what you are doing?  

Its also mostly a boy thing.  Not exclusively - as I have also met quite a few girls along the way who exhibit the same signs.  Boys seem to give up quicker than girls.   I would love to understand more why this is.   Why is it not 'cool' to work hard in school?  Why is not 'cool' to do homework, to be punctual and to actually have a hope/dream/aspiration for your future?  Maybe this is a social thing.   Does the same disaffection happen in Grammar schools?    Parents - support your children.   Parents - support the teachers of your children.  Don't undermine them with negative comments at home.   Don't critise the things that the teacher is doing to support your child.   Ask how you can help to support more?   What can YOU do to support your child and ensure that they get the qualifications that they need for the future.  

This week in our local area 860 people at the Michelin factory heard they were going to lose their jobs.   This means that there will be more competition for jobs and for courses at the NRC than at any other time in the past.    16 year olds do not understand this.   It will be too late for them when the penny drops and they can't get the job they want.  

Mindset has a large part to play here too.   Many disaffected children feel that they can't do it because they are not capable.   But actually, even more children are just lazy.  They can't be bothered to do the work required.  Its not too difficult for them - they just would rather do nothing.  That is the biggest challenge.    Its not a Fixed mindset.   Its a 'That'll do' mindset.  Parents - you need to challenge this attitude in your children.   You need to ensure that they are always trying to improve (and have a growth mindset).   You need to make sure that they get to bed at a decent time so that they are not wanting to sleep and put their heads down in class.   You need to ensure they get a decent, healthy breakfast and lunch so that their bodies are ready for work.   You need to ensure that they are equipped properly.  

I don't do giving up. Maybe it will put more pressure on me.  But I am not going to give up on my disaffected students.   It is not going to happen.  I can be determined/ stubborn when I want to be and sometimes the one thing that teachers need to do for their students is to refuse to give up - even when they do.  

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Welcome to Parents Night!

Over the next few weeks - many parents will be receiving letters and notification that the dreaded Parents Night/ Parents consultation meetings with teachers are due again.   Some parents dodge these totally, some look forward to this in the same way they look forward to root canal work and some just go because they like to hear nice things about their kids.

I love parents meetings.  I love the opportunity to meet with parents individually but I have to say that I appreciate the opportunity MORE to speak to the student.  As a busy teacher you don't often get many opportunities to speak 1 to 1 with your students - so it is an opportunity that I like to grab with both hands!

Here are a few things that might help parents think through their approach to Parents Night!

1.   Write down some questions:   think out what you want to ask in advance.  Take notes.   Go beyond the 'So how is my child doing?'.  Find out about how you can support at home.   What can you do to get the next grade up?   Is there anything that YOU can do to help out?

2.  Be punctual:  most meetings will end pretty sharply so make sure that you arrange to be there from the very start to get the maximum amount of time possible.  Most parents evenings reward the early attenders as you get away early - so plan to be on time.   When time is up - time is up!

3.  Ask about patterns of behaviour and work for your child:  Is there anything that you notice at home that might help the teachers connect with your child?   The relationship that a teacher and student have can be a major reason for success.   There needs to be trust.  What about behaviour?  What about friendships?   Does your child go to bed early enough?  Many students find it hard to engage in school because they are up late playing computer games and go to bed too late.   If they are yawning their way through the school day  . . . . what can you do to stop this?

4.  Agree targets:  Often teachers will set targets for a child.   Do you agree?  Are they too high or too low?   Do they fit with what you see in your child?  But, do bear in mind that most teachers have been teaching the same subject for a long time and they might have a better sense of expectation that you might have.   Be prepared to listen but ensure that all conversation is positive and constructive.   Ask about what is happening next in class.  When is the next assessment - what grades should you be looking for and know that your child is making progress?

5.  We're in this together:  don't forget that teachers and parents need to work together.   To get the best possible work out of students requires a team effort.   Try to have a growth mindset to enable your child to keep pushing and working.   Its your job to support your child at home and to make sure that they have a healthy school - life balance.  But realise that in the run up to important exams there will be stress and that the work needs done if success is to be achieved.

We have our own language, Belfast folk, so we do.

I came across this rather funny web site today that has some interesting expressions from Norn iron.


Saturday, 29 August 2015

Back to school!

A friend met me during the week and laughed saying "I suppose its odd being back at school this week".  My replied shocked him - I've been back in school from 11th August.  I've already done 3 weeks before our new Year 8 students arrived yesterday.   There is a common misconception that teachers get a lot of time off.  In fact, this has been my busiest summer ever - but then thats probably my own fault for being involved with exam boards and in helping to organise an educational conference.  

There is something strangely satisfying about being 'Back to School' (though I did not appreciate Tesco having all the Back to School gear stuff available in the last week of June!).  There is something nice about cracking the spine on the new diary, about writing the details of your timetable into the teacher planner.  There is a sense of satisfaction when you lift the first term teaching files down from the bookcase and start thinking about how you deliver the course - what will you do the same and what will you differently.

I come of age this year.  Its my 21st September as a teacher.  

Every year starts in school with staff development and training.  Like the well-tuned educational athletes that we are - teachers have to spend time thinking about how to improve.  Its not always easy to start the year in this way - I usually spend a lot of time in June trying to get the balance right and getting my plans in place.   Its important to set the tone for the year.  To inspire and to give staff an opportunity to learn and to grow as well.   I am proud of the way that we do staff development and I believe that we get a nice balance between fun, challenge and inspiration.   But, the weird thing is that most teachers just want to get to 1st September so that we can get going.  Teaching is what we do - we love nothing better than getting a group of young people in our classrooms so that we can change their world.

So - to all my many teacher friends out there - welcome back and have a Happy Back to school!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Why CPD matters now more than ever

There is one thing that students, parents, inspectors agree on: 
a school is only as good as its teachers

Yet today the life cycle of the teacher in Northern Ireland often involves having to spend a few years as a substitute in other people's classrooms with little real sense of ownership or permancy.  Many young teachers feel they have to move to England to get a job or just give up having spend a lot of time writing application forms for jobs that they don't even get shortlisted for.  

There is a frustation in having to wait for a chance to shine.   In the process, that young teacher loses their enthusaism to be creative, to be daring, to take risks for learning, to try and do things differently. 

Additionally, within a few years of getting a permanent job, many teachers fall into habits.  They are sidetracked by possibilities of promotion, their penchant for the creative is replaced with a drive for results.  Their measure is increments on pass rates in external examinations.   

To make sure that teachers remain as effective as possible there needs to be challenge.  There needs to be accountability.   There needs to be opportunity for creativity.  There needs to be the opportunity to try something and fail safely.   

Effective training and CPD (Continuing Professional Development) needs to be at the heart of every good school.   It needs to be important to every senior leader.   It needs to be soemthing that the Department for Education and the ETI values, supports and invests in. 

It is not enough to say - we have invested in PQH, therefore we have trained the leaders.   I'm sorry - I've done PQH.  That's not what made me good.  That's not what made me effective.  That's not whaat made me someone who wants to spend time and energy supporting teachers so that they can really make a difference in the lives of the young people they come in contact with.  

In Northern Ireland there is very little support for teachers.   If you want them to be better - put your hand in your pocket and support them.   Train them properly.   Make it easier for them to get jobs when they come out of college.  Value them.  Listen to them.  Keep investing in them.  Mentor them.   Have opportunities where they can get together and learn from a more expereinced teacher in their phase, sector, subject etc.  

That's why I'm involved in #niedcamp.   Its not revolutionary - its teachers wanting to learn from other teachers.  We are social animals - we like to chat, we like a bit of space to find out what other people are doing - it challenges us to be better. 

Shaun Allison in his great wee book called 'Perfect Teacher-Led CPD' says that the CPD leader needs to:
  • Get teachers excited about teaching
  • Get teaching talking about teaching
  • Get teachers planning and evaluate their teaching together
  • Get teachers observing and learning from each other
  • Get teachers sharing what works with each other
That's what I am trying to do when I plan the CPD in my school and thats what I hope #niedcamp starts to do for those that turn up. 

Its why CPD matters now more than ever . . .