Sunday, 9 February 2014
In case you missed the news, I am moving schools. After 17 years at Slemish College teaching Geography (mostly) and leading faculties, doing exams admin, managing the curriculum, leading Houses, being a Head of year etc . . . it is time to move on to another school and to new challenges and opportunities. I'm sad to go - I have made great friends and hope that I have made a little bit of a difference to the people that I have met along the way.
I'm not moving that far - its about another 5 minutes in the morning drive and I am going to be the Vice Principal at Cullybackey College. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm looking forward to making new friends and to bringing some of my experience and wacky ideas to this school. It's a big change for someone who does not really like change. It's not that I am scared of change - and its not that I don't like change, I suppose - its just that change is all well and good when it is all theoretical but when you do finally make the jump - its amazing how distracting and petrifying even the smallest things look.
I can't emphasis enough how much I am looking forward to the new opportunities - I'm going to be leading aspects of the school as it develops teaching and learning and the curriculum - something I am passionate about!
But, the one thing no-one told me was how hard the transition was. Writing and handing in my letter of resignation was really difficult. 17 years does not sound that much but as I often say, my fingerprints are all over Slemish College. When I arrived there were 80 students and only one Year 8 group. I watched a school grow. I developed systems and wrote policies and watched a small insignificant field become a centre where amazing learning was taking place and students were challenged and celebrated for their achievements.
I get to start building again. With a different team. Hopefully I can continue to make a difference in the lives of the students, staff and parents that I meet at Cullybackey. I hope they see me as someone who is interested in them and who will always try to do what is best - even if sometimes that means that we don't agree. I'm excited.
So the packing starts now. I am starting to scour for boxes and starting to think about what goes to Cullybackey, what comes home and what stays at Slemish. Teachers accumulate tat. We always hold on to things and wonder if something might be useful again in the future. I have stuff stored all over the place - so it might take me the next 2 months just to find my stuff and decide what to do with it. I get to strip away 17 years of memories, 17 years of learning, 17 years of challenge, 17 years of laughter, 17 years of watching boys grow into men and girls into women, 17 years of celebrating in the good times, 17 years of being a support through the tough times, 17 years of friendships and 17 years of listening, waiting, watching, thinking and shaping.
Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Altogether 2013 has been one of the busiest and most eventful years of my life so far. You’d think that after 40 years of growing on this planet that I would have learnt how to work efficiently and maybe to slow down some. Nope. So what were some of the most memorable things of the year
- · My daughter became a tweenager and made me feel very old (and went to big school making me feel even older)
- · My wife and I turned 40 and celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary (not all on the same day)
- · I finally got to see Sigur Ros live in concert . . . in Glasgow and it was fantastic
- · My wife and I celebrated our birthdays and anniversary by going over to Iceland for a few days (my wife had always wanted to do this)
- · We bought a caravan.
- · My good friend Mark Weir left Slemish to be Principal at Strangford College – I am missing him!
- · I managed to complete writing and see my very first book in print – my GCSE textbook for the CCEA GCSE in geography is selling well (why not treat yourself to a copy on Amazon) – I’m very proud of my achievement and have since been working on my next 2 books – two AS Geography revision guides for the CCEA course in Geography. The manuscript is in with the publisher and we are hoping to see these in print before the summer.
2014 is already shaping up to be a busy one – I am speaking at a few conferences and am hoping to organise a special conference for geography students in the near future, I am working on a couple of new books including one which is not going to be a geography textbook!!!! More news on that later in the year.
I like being busy and I like relaxing with my family and working hard the rest of the time – it’s a good way to live and work – lets hope that 2014 is as industrious as 2013. I also met some new friends and people this year which was fun and something I want to repeat into next year. . . .
Have a great celebration of the new year and maybe I’ll see you about some time . . . .
Happy 2014 and best wishes
Monday, 30 December 2013
It’s been an odd year for me in the music world. I have found many of my old fashioned ways have been turned upside down – I used to like nothing better than buying a cd or making a phat purchase on itunes but this year I have probably spent less and listened to a lot more stuff online through spotify and soundcloud. I have downloaded more free music from noisetrade – its good for my bank balance but I do wonder about the impact that this type of musical consumerism has on the music industry. I have found myself going through a bot of a singer/songwriter funk this year – I have been writing all year so nice mellow tones and voice in the background seems to suit what I need to get into ‘the zone’.
So heres the list of tunes / of runners and riders of what makes it to my special playlist at the end of 2013
10 - Providence by the Foals (on Holy Fire)
Driving drumbeat and crying guitar playing merry with the stereophonic sounds . . . yes please! Holy Fire is a great album filled with well-rounded songs but this is my stand out track from the album. I listen to it a lot. . . . .
9 – Pompeii by Bastille (on Bad Blood)
“I was left to my own deviiiiiices.”
My daughter will kill me for having this dong and album so LOW on the list – this is her favourite album of the year and this song has been played 52 times (followed closely with 41 plays of Things we lost in the fire). It’s a good, well rounded album with a few good songs and certainly created a few great sing songs in our car over the year and lets face it . . . . who else tries to get the drum solo bit near the end . . .
8 – You carry me by Martin Smith (on God’s Great Dance Floor)
I always know when I like and have engaged with a song when I start doing harmonies - this is a gorgeous slow and dramatic builder of a song that questions our faith . . .
7 – Your way is the way home by Tired Pony (on The Ghost of the Mountain)
My fav artists include Snow Patrol and Iain Archer so it is pretty natural that I love Tired Pony. The songs are slow, melodic and often tell great stories – this song is just one amongst many that I love from this album (though I could just have easily gone fro The Beginning of the end)
6 – Brennisteinn by Sigur Ros (on Kveikur)
Its been an Icelandic year for us this year. I took my wife off to Glasgow to see Sigur Ros in concert (which was a dream of a lifetime) and then we were in Iceland over the summer – when you go driving around Iceland it is required (by law) that you play Sigur Ros. This is the most recent Sigur Ros album and it is a bit more rocky than previous albums which I quite like as I like my Sigur Ros loud and fast . . . . . a return to form.
5 – The one that got away by The Civil Wars (on The Civil Wars)
Its pretty typical of me that just as I get heavily into a band they go and break up. I had started getting into the Civil Wars towards the end of last year and then downloaded most of the stuff that I could get my hands on – this album came out in the middle of the year though they had broken up and so were not touring the album – much to my annoyance.
4 – Contact by Daft Punk (on Random Access Memories)
When I first downloaded the Daft Punk Album I thought I had made a terrible mistake. One listen through and I thought that this was one I would never be playing again. . . . what was I thinking. But I did play it again and the more I played the more I got into the sound and the vibe – though I still don’t understand the whole Giorgio by Moroder thing.
3 – Different People by Biffy Clyro (on Opposites)
This is probably the stand out album of 2013 for me – its been played a good 30 times and oddly – the song count is pretty much the same for each track on the album – its one of this albums that is quality from start to finish – there are no weak points. Though, to b fair I could have easily have also put ‘biblical’ on this list as well!
2 – Here comes the night time by Arcade Fire (on Reflektor)
Arcade Fire are a bit of an acquired taste though I think their last album brought them a lot more mainstream fans. This is a bit of a mix of an album – it combines some upbeat dance tunes and some more bizarre almost abba-esque tunes like Joan of Arc and then this ‘here comes the night time’ is a more traditional Arcade Fire fare . . . This is one that you really need to pump the bass up and play loud . . . . oh here comes my son ‘Dad, turn that down I can’t hear the tv’ . I’m such a rebel.
1 - Closed Hand, Full of Friends by Foy Vance (on Joy of Nothing)
I am a huge fan of Foy Vance and have loved pretty much everything he has done. It was odd to hear him back with a full album with a full band and full sound – different from the usual man alone on a stage that we have become used to. But this album hits you with a bang between the eyes and then sucks you in with the haunting melodies and voice that continues from beginning to end . . reminding us with the final song ‘Guiding Light’ of what happens at the end of a Foy gig . . you get your phone and stand swaying and singing into the night . . . when I need to get home you’re my guiding light . . . .
What nearly made it?
Dying Inside by Gary Barlow (on Since I saw you last)
I’m not really a Gary Barlow fan. I got the album for my wife and daughter and found this on one day when I was writing and the song just stopped me. Rarely have I heard such a big artist write and sing so honest a song. Its about the time when his daughter died and how he dealt with this in the full public glare. Not a typical song that I would have on this list but then it hasn’t been a typical year.
Another cracker of a song on the Foals Holy Fire album is Inhaler which nearly sneaked into the chart as well . . . . another song from Martin Smith’s God’s great dance floor album was Back to the start . . . oddly I quite like the Gareth Malone album Voices . . . . again, this was a purchase for the daughter which somehow got played a bit more than I anticipated. I could have put some Ram’s Pocket Radio but as he got to slot last year I thought I woud leave it. Though his album Beton was released this year and is a good listen . . . . . my new discovery of the year is Josh Garrells . . .
I bought the Les Miserables soundtrack hoping that it would inspire but this was a bit of a bad purchase! Very disappointing – mostly because I cant get it to play in order on my itunes . . . Another disappointing album was Lightinin Bolt by Pearl Jam . . not quite what I hoped for and it seems like PJ have lost it a little . . . Jamie Cullum’s new albums usually inspire but I thought his latests collection of tunes was pretty sad and tired and lacked his usual imagination
Sunday, 15 December 2013
It has been a very odd week weather wise in the Middle East this week. A Champions League football match was abandoned in Turkey - which was an odd event to begin with. But then, this morning I started to see images of the dump of snow which has covered parts of Egypt and Jerusalem with over a foot of snow. What odd weather. I don't actually remember hearing about snow in Israel . . ever.
Apart from that is from that carol that people insist on singing at Christmas time - In the bleak mid winter. I have to confess that I loathe this carol. I detest it. I refuse to sing it. I will stand at carol services with a scowl on as everyone moans about the frosty winds and about how the climate was so much worse long ago. I used to rant and rave that the baby Jesus did not have to endure the snow falling snow on snow those many years ago . . . so why should I?
Geographically my argument was sound. Until today. It looks like this year I am going to have to join all those people who enjoy singing this carolling version of a weather forecast as the fact is that the weather is warmer and better in Belfast today that it is in Bethlehem. Bah Humbug.
Monday, 25 November 2013
What has your expereince of CPD been in NI recently?
A lot of Northern Irish teachers have commented to me recently that they feel unsupported in the classroom. With the demise of the different Education and Library boards - the support for the common teacher is at its lowest ebb for many years. Teachers feel lonely and isolated. I write as a post primary teacher. I have not been to a proper Geography day in about 5 years - how are we to continue to share good practice? How are we to swop ideas and strategies if there is no facility for this? How are we to learn? How are struggling subject teachers getting support? How are we teaching and reflecting on the different changes within the education system? How are we preparing for changes at GCSE and A Level and who can we talk to for advice and support? How DO we support the failing teacher and the failing department?
These are all big questions within the NI education system right now. But how can we support teachers better? What is actually needed? What would a fit-for-purpose support packadge actually look like? What do you need? What do you want? Is the solution a NI training agency or should thinks be more regionally based?
A personal gripe of mine is the fact that in order for your pay to progress within the current system you have to become a collector of management points. The more management points that you collect the more this job/role will take you away from your core roll as a classroom teacher. We need to get better at rewarding good teachers. Does this mean that we want some sort of AST (Advances Skills teacher) scheme in NI? Will it get recognition? Can this be a different path towards leadership within NI? Do we think that an AST might actually have the right skills to be a Principal but using a different path?
For me, far too many young teachers aspire to leadership too quickly. We need to think about why this is the case. Is it because there is nothing else for them to aspire to? Where is our vision in education that good teachers are celebrated and acknowledged as skilled practitioners? Where is the support if you get appointed as a Head of Year - is there enough support for the pastoral dimension in schools? How do you get supported as a teacher in their second, third, fifth, seventh year of teaching? How do you hone your skills? Is PRSD enough? Is PRSD for for purpose?
How do you take control of your own CPD? What have you done to take control
A lot of educational commentators talk about the philosophical need for learners to have space to process// to think// to map out in their heads how things work and how they connect together. The problem often is that amongst the busy-ness that is school life with class changes// timetables// bells/ class changeovers// schedules// diaries etc - we often do not allow the sapce needed to make these connections.
Students need space and time to think. They need to be encouraged to reflect. The best question that any parent can ask their kids at the end of a long day of learning is . . .'what have you learned today?'
As teachers we need to learn the language for this. We need to learn how to set time aside within a lesson to allow students to connect this learning. We need to get them to model and then take things to the next step - how does this learning link to other things that I know? (how can this become a transferable skill?) How can I engage with this creatively? How can I make sure that this learming matters to me?
In our school we have encouraged teachers over the last many years to use the Alister Smith's Accelerated Learning cyle as a model for lesson planning and within this - the connection to past learning is important. But, we need more - we need to think a little more about the space that we create for this. How is this embedded into the culture and the pedagogy of the classroom?
Friday, 15 November 2013
I know, I know - its been a few days since I have written anything about the 'big change'. I thought I would let things bed in a bit to see what is going on before I spouted again. I know that some who read this are going to be starting to plan for and might even be on the cusp of the transformation process. I have to emphasise that this is purely from my perspective as someone who uses ICT in EVERY lesson. It is not the views of my school or maybe even anyone else at my school. This is me.
1. Printing: Yesterday I tweeted a picture of the first printed page to come out of my printer in 14 days. Yes - it took a whole 14 days after transformation to get a printed page out. This was a serious liability and still we have printers not on the network and areas where it is difficult to print. The global solution for the school is NOT fit for purpose. Plus - the paper cut system for monitoring the printing is just fully annoying. It just sits there. laughing at me as I use up pound upon pound. I still have a heap of things to print that have been backlogged.
2. Laptop docks: We would use a lot of laptops for staff and purchased docking stations for them to make it easier to use. Now these things are temperamental at the best of times but now nothing seems to work. The docks just don't seem to work with wit-fi. whoops there.
3. My old laptops for students: Before transformation I had 8 laptops in my room for coursework and portfolios. they were slow and clunky but they were loved, cared for and were mine. Right now, they still don't work - we are still trying to get a solution to get them connected and working again and because my techie guy has been running around like a blue-ended fly for the last 2 weeks - these are still waiting to be done.
4. My gripes with the new operation system. I hate Windows 7. That said, I know I would have despised Windows 8 more but 7 is rubbish. It is so clunky and generic. I hate the fact that I can't put my own software onto the computer. I can't even pin programmes to the task bar. This means that every time I want to open my Interactive WB software I have to go onto the apps package and reload this. It takes ages. (Ie 3 mins). Now - I move about al lot in my school from one room to the next and this means that I often have to move my laptop and it does not deal with changes well. It closes programmes and this means I have to us valuable teaching time waiting for programmes to load. I want this software on my computer. Its free. I have the licence. It came with my board. why do I have to load the software every single time.
5. I use sims a lot but I have been getting more error messages on sims than ever. It normally works ok if you reboot 3 times but lets face it - what teacher has time to reboot a computer 3 times every time you have an issue.
6. Taking your computer home. Don't. There is no point. All you can get is email and maybe internet if you know how to turn the proxy off. I took my computer home. Turned the proxy settings off and then could not get them turned back on again so my laptop refused to go online back in school again for a week. Nice. It would be nice to have a wee button to click to have an app to do this for us.
7. Software issues - I know there are still some software issues. They don't affect me greatly (to my knowledge anyway) BUT there are still some that need to be ironed out.
So, all said - I am now 2 weeks into transformation and I don't really see how this has improved access to teaching and learning. We still don't have any guest devices going. (Though, to be fair, I have a feeling this NOW might be more OUR end than anyone else) I still don't have my iPad on. I still have not got apple tv in and set up. The technology support just is not there right now. I have a better setup at home than in school. In fact, today I just turned my phone into a hotpot and used my iPad to tweet a picture on my 3G.
I'm a big fan of some of the stuff Capita have been doing and I know a lot of the guys in C2k - but guys, your communication before, during and STRAIGHT after transformation needs to be better. I don't just want you communicating with Principals and the tech geeks - get in to talk to the whole staff. Show them what they need to do. Demonstrate. Model. Inspire them with what you are leaving behind. Show us the potential of this new system you have been working on. Show us how our lives are going to be changed and help us to inspire the crabbity old 'saboteurs' who are more interested in the Readers Digest than ICT.
Teachers don't have time to wait for this. If a school is having problems - you need to drop everything and get it sorted. You need to send your managers in with clipboards (lets face it, your iPads prob won't work properly) to listen, to solve and to move heaven and earth to get things fixed. Transformation needs to be smooth. It needs to be seamless. You need to be like Father Christmas - no-one sees him but everyone knows when he's been because of the lovely presents he has left. Simple. Uncomplicated. Presents.
Its been 15 days since transformation and maybe we are getting there. Finally. But, is this fast enough?