Sunday 13 November 2011

Manifesto for sustainable effective teaching. #TMLondon

The final speaker at Teach Meet London was Kathryn Lovewell, a teacher whose story of her NQT year sounded like most of ours. She was an energetic, enthusiastic, "never say no" kind of teacher. Unfortunately, all did not end well and to put it lightly, this is a formula for inevitable stress and burnout. I know this (like many of you), because I've lived this same life and I haven't slowed down much since my NQT year, up until now.

A typical day involves waking up between 5am and 6.45am depending on how much work/pressure there is at school. I'll usually be in school between 6.45am and 8.00am. That's a huge window. I don't like rush hour traffic, whether I'm cycling or catching the bus, rush hour seems like a really inefficient time to travel. Like many teachers, I like to get in early, I can work undisturbed for a good hour and get a lot done. Or so it seems. Students this year have also started coming in at 7.15am, I'm not sure why, but I don't think it's healthy.

I usually leave school between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. On some occasions, I will leave at 4.30pm or 8.30pm. Here comes Kathryn's advice, set your working hours. Do what matters most to you, what will actually have the most impact on teaching and learning. The things that are "important". The rest can wait or be put off. After further lengthy discussion with some of my colleagues and my wife, I decided on the following Manifesto.
  1. I will only check e-mail between 7am and 7pm. 
  2. I will prioritise exam/coursework marking over non-coursework marking. 
  3. I will not take physical homework home. It can all be marked in school. Digital homework can be taken home on a memory stick. 
  4. I will go to sleep every working night before 11pm, this way I will get 7 hours sleep every night.
  5. I will have a caffeine/stimulant free life-No coffee, tea, pain killers just water. This way I can listen to my body.
  6. I will meditate at least 10 mins twice a day.
  7. Once a week, I will leave work by 4pm.
  8. I have yet to figure out exact working hours, but I will do a one week pilot, trying 10 hours a day at work (max). 90 mins at home a day (max).  With smaller time windows, I hope that I will procrastinate less, be more productive, more energetic and more rested. I will definitely get the important stuff done, as time is much more valuable now. I will also get to spend more time with my wife, who shows great compassion in tolerating my current work-life balance.
Like most teachers I love rules, those set out in my manifesto above will ensure I'm working to my strengths, by attepting to stick to these rules, I'll have a much more sustainable and effective teaching career. I wonder, what will you give up? How will your life change? It would be nice to hear other people's manifesto's. If life were like the film below, how would you live differently? Do you think life is much different to the film below?

Personally, I don't think life is very different. To quote a famous rapper (bonus points if you can name him):

"Time is the most important element in our lives that we can't afford to waste".

We need to work more efficiently, more effectively and more sustainably. Our bodies will tell us if we're not doing this through those tell-tale headaches, migraines, chest/back pains, skin complexion, quality of hair and general stress. I'm pretty certain that less stress leads to a longer life, a longer career and a happier life and career.

Thanks to Kathryn Lovewell and TeachMeet London for inspiring this post.

Monday 10 October 2011

Innovation comes from within

What an amazing speaker. Innovation from within. What is your breath/spirit/spark?

Is there a creative life in your students?

How can you find it?

Dr Peter Benson, may he Rest In Peace. Thank you for your contribution to our profession, I hope we can act on his passion, his breath, his spirit.


Saturday 8 October 2011

This advert with the original "Steve Jobs" voiceover was never aired.

His legacy will be remembered and may the likes of Jonathan Ive, David Kelley, Tim Brown and Steve Wozniak continue changing the technological landscape.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Do something today

This brought tears of happiness and sorrow:

What will you do today?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

How Gove and Exam boards can help us embed Technology in education.

Michael Gove's office is due to respond to recommendations put forward by Naace on the topic of "Technology in Education". The key quotation from this response is that,

"the Government believes that the effective use of technology can support good teaching and help raise educational standards.  It is critical to effective learning in the 21st century."

I remember a colleague of mine informing me that the new specification of GCSE Business Communication Systems (also known as BCS) requires students to be able to compose a Tweet. I do not teach BCS, but this is indeed exciting. However, our school, like many does not currently allow the use of mainstream social media/virtual spaces such as Facebook or Twitter. There was once a block in our school on all blogs and Youtube, but as OCR Media Studies requires students to keep a blog, the ban on blogs was lifted. The ban on Youtube was also lifted as we discovered many educational videos on there, as did the students. Even SMT couldn't deny the educational value of Youtube.

In many schools, they still only use Microsoft Internet Explorer and refuse to install the more efficient and effective Google Chrome or Firefox. It is only when the Applied ICT A-level specification stipulated "testing websites in multiple browsers" that some schools have installed Google Chrome.

There is an obvious theme here, technology will be blocked unless the curriculum specifically states that it should be taught and used. I would ask the government and exam boards to put their money where their mouth is. If they really do want our students to be well-prepared for working in the 21st century, then I plea for them to explicitly state the use of virtual networks, mobile learning devices, Youtube/Vimeo and Twitter in their official policy documents and specifications.

It doesn't take much, a simple sentence such as "Students should upload their video production coursework to an online streaming video service". Most centres would know how to interpret that and will be able to pressure their service providers/headteachers/governors. At present, all our student coursework is uploaded on Youtube for the exam board to access. But it is the teachers that do the uploading as students do not have privileges to login and upload video. By restricting technology access and requiring teachers to bridge the gap and access blocked sites, tweets, videos, we are depriving students of that very basic pedagogical technique-learning by doing.

So the three steps that are required:

  1. The government and the exam boards take responsibility and lead our young learners into the 21st century by explicitly stating the use of mobile tech, social networking, social media and virtual networks. (All of these are in use in the real working world and our schools should reflect this)
  2. Schools develop watertight policies for the use of the aforementioned technologies which are specific to the school's learning environment and circumstance. Although sharing these policies would help others tweak and tweet them for mass benefit.
  3. Schools finally start preparing learners for the real world by reflecting the real world using real mobile technology, social networking, social media and virtual networks.
I praise those exam boards and subjects such as Media Studies and BCS, which despite often getting a lot of bad press for being soft subjects, have already got the ball rolling. They have innovated and adopted new technology early. Now we need more subjects and exam boards to follow! 

I dare you to be creative

Go on.
Click on this. And try and resist.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Why the UK needs Inventors, Innovators and Entrepreneurs

ost economies and GDP are founded on exports. Exports of certain tangible, physical products. Many developed countries do not have such exports, they rely on their financial sector. The past 8 years has shown us that we cannot rely solely on our financial sector, only 2 days ago did the markets slide; it was the biggest fall in share prices since 2008. This is a global issue, not just a national issue.

In the UK, we used to be renowned for producing high quality "physical" exports-coal, suits, shirts, stainless steel, cars. However due to lower labour costs in developing countries and also (ironically) due to a more-educated and service-orientated workforce, we no longer produce that many tangible exports. However, there is still one thing that we are good at and that is creative exports in the form of inventions, innovations, design and entrepreneurial ideas.

In terms of designers and inventors we have Paul Smith, Lee (Alexander) McQueen, Vivenne Westwood, Punch Drunk, Tim Brown (Ideo), Jonathan Ive (Apple), James Dyson, John Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Norman Foster, Tim Berners Lee and many more.

Entrepreneurs we have: Richard Branson, Phillip Green, Duncan Bannatyne, Alan Sugar, Peter Jones, Duncan Cameron, Simon Nixon and many more.

Food for thought: How many of the aforementioned would have gained their English Baccalaureate at school (5 GCSE's at grades A-C including History/Geography and a language).

Our national creative heritage is long running and can be clearly seen in our popular culture and the TV show "Dragon's Den" which has been running for nine seasons and "exported" to 20 countries. Contestants have pitched some seriously ridiculous and useless products, however every episode there is usually an invention which makes you go "Wow" and at the same time think "I wish I had thought of that". It's almost in the British spirit to tinker and create. One of my favourite ideas is shown below:

However, whilst there is a spirit of creativity in the UK, our national education system is not doing our creative culture justice:

So what is the answer? Sir Ken Robinson would argue that we should find the best in our students and not force them to study a narrow range of subjects. Yes, Maths, English, Science are important. Music, Latin, History, Languages and Geography are also important, but they should not be forced upon students instead of other subjects which students actually enjoy. Without students studying Design and Technology, Art, Dance, Drama, Textiles, Computing at KS3, KS4 GCSE and KS5, students will not have the skillset, knowledge or quite simply the access to become designers, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

I don't believe we need a national prescribed curriculum. Students should not be forced into studying any subject at GCSE (provided their literacy and numeracy is good enough for the workplace). They should simply study what they enjoy studying. Ultimately, most students know what subjects they like even at the age of 11 or 14, as long as they have had the opportunity to experience the subject in the first place. So the next time a student asks me if they should study my subject next year, I will answer them honestly. Do they enjoy the subject? Are they studying it because they think it will be easy, or because their parents or friends think it is a good idea? There are far too many students leaving school with C's and D's in subjects which they never wanted to study in the first place. Many did not choose applied/practical subjects for fear of being chastised by others for choosing an "easy subject". If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that getting an A-grade in Dance, Drama or ICT is no easier than getting an A-grade in Maths. They require different types of intelligence as Howard Gardner would put it and every student will have differing strengths which we need to nurture.

The UK Immigration department has a list of shortage occupations . If you your skillset is on the list and you wish to work in the UK, you can easily get a Tier 2 work permit as the UK does not have enough people with these skills. The list includes hydro geologists, dance choreographers and horse carers. However, we do not need more hydro geologists, dance choreographers or horse carers; we simply need more students doing what they enjoy doing.

We cannot single handedly change the system or national policies on a macro level, but we can have an impact on a micro level in our classrooms and conversations with students. We need to have an impact on a micro level. Our country and economy needs us to!

Sunday 18 September 2011

Ken Robinson's Outro from #TEDxLondon

Sir Ken opened by reminding us that we're living in revolutionary times. Behind these revolutions are two drivers.
  1. Population growth (We are nearing 7bn worldwide and set to reach 9bn in the future)
  2. Technology (It transforms everything we do)
And the key to our future according to the revolutionary Malcolm X, is education:
Education is our passport to the future,
for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today

HG Wells was also referenced by Sir Ken, "Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe," he quoted and we need to ensure education catches up in this race and think about the basic purpose of education.

We also need to remember that this conversation is not happening in a vacuum, in fact there are many people working on the same problems, Twitter is a goldmine for #edchat discussions and sharing of best practice. The HeArt project in LA is another example which is leading the way in the future of alternative education. They have five principles designed to specifically address school dropout:
  1. Learning should be based on a personalised curriculum
  2. Teacher to student ratio is vital
  3. Group activity and collaboration should be encouraged
  4. We should seek to find the interests of the individual learners
  5. The need to shape the learning environment to suit the learners
Ken would go on to state that these principles are surely principles of all good education, not just alternative education. It is a shame that these ideas now belong at the fringe of educational thinking and they should be brought more into the centre.

Moving onto Technology, which was a common theme in all the talks. Technology needs to be integrated into learning. Technology on its own does not do much, but what you do with it can make all the difference. We need to prepare students for the future and mirroring what Guy Claxton said at a Keynote address earlier in the year , it is difficult for us to predict the future, so we will have to be resilient. Education after all is an art form, not just a delivery system. We will learn and master it through trial and error.

Ken's pledge was to "help shape the future in which we all want to live in".

There was not much more to say in this succinct outro, other than

"Let's start this revolution!"