Tag: learning (page 5 of 10)

Things I Learned This Month – September 2010

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3 reasons teachers should smile

This is a response to an article in SecEd by Margaret Adams entitled Have You Smiled Yet? I was asked to write a response after expressing disbelief on Twitter that someone would still be advocating the ‘Don’t smile until Christmas’ mantra.

Seven years ago I entered my first teaching job in a deprived area of Nottinghamshire. Two schools, literally next door to one another, merged at the beginning of my NQT year. The department in which I was based was located in the roughest part of the school that was taken over. It would have otherwise been closed after failing to come out of Special Measures.

The pupils in front of me were a mixed bag. I had children who didn’t even register on the CAT scale for literacy with such horrendous homelives that it was a wonder that they owned a uniform and came to school. In a recent episode of SecEd Margaret Adams suggested that the traditional advice ‘not to smile before Christmas’ was defensible. I’d like to argue otherwise. Did I smile before Christmas in that first term as an NQT despite it being the hardest of my life? You bet. Here’s three reasons why whether new to the profession or vastly experienced you should ignore Margaret Adams’ exhortations and smile away.

First, as a teacher you are in loco parentis when with the young people in your classroom. At that moment, in the eyes of the law, you are standing in place of their parents. Can you imagine a parent who withheld smiles for a number of months from their offspring? How would that make them feel? Imagine being an apprehensive 11 year-old Year 7 pupil this term. How would you react to a teacher who refused to show any human warmth or positive emotion? Or one who blanked you when you called out a cheery ‘good morning’? If you’re not aware of the backgrounds of the children in front of you, ask them! You might be surprised at what you find out. Good teaching is all about relationships and bridges to learning.

Second, it’s important to smile for your own mental health. The best advice I ever received in terms of how to act in the classroom was to be an ‘enlarged version of yourself’. Trying to be two different people inside and outside the classroom is not a recipe for long-term stability, happiness or positive learning and teaching situations. Smiling is one of the most natural and spontaneous things we can do. So many unexpected things have made me smile over the past few years in the classroom that I’ve lost count. Teaching can be a long, hard slog – and especially during the Autumn term when Christmas seems a distant prospect. But ‘smile and the world smiles with you’ my dear old Grandma used to say, ‘frown and you frown alone’.

That’s not to say that new teachers should just ‘grin and bear it’, however. Smiling at everyone and everything can be as much an example of not being yourself as refusing to smile. Let your positive and negative emotions and reactions mean something to pupils. Let them know where they stand. If you haven’t read ‘The One Minute Manager’, buy or borrow it. Let other people be able to react to you as a human being, not as a machine implementing policies and spurious ‘wisdom’ from those more experienced in the profession.

Third, and finally, we have a responsibility to others in the workplace. An organisation – a school, a university, a business – is made up of the people it contains. Workplace cultures are not imposed, they are created and shaped by everyone – even those new to the profession. Not only will a well-placed smile cheer up colleagues who might be having a hard time, but they will hear from pupils how much they enjoy learning with you. That makes school a positive place to work and better for you in the long-run.

In conclusion, then, smile! Be positive. Let that be your default position and be an enlarged version of yourself. Find ways to make your classroom a positive, vibrant environment for learning. Use displays of emotion such as smiling to connect with those around you and forge meaningful relationships. Contrary to what Margaret Adams may think, it’s possible to be serious about learning and teaching whilst having fun – and smiling – along the way.

5 things it’s currently fashionable to say (without much evidence)

1. iPhones

The thing about the iPhone is that it’s not a very good phone.

Really? In what sense?

2. Self-organised Learning

Teachers just need to get out of kids’ way – they know how to organise their learning.

I’m not sure they do, actually. I agree education needs to change, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater…

3. eBooks

By 2015 eBooks will have replaced paper books as the primary means of reading.

No they won’t. They’ll grow in popularity, no doubt, but paper books will continue to be printed – just like people still ride horses even though there are cars, and people continue to watch TV despite the internet.

4. Teaching

She’s a born teacher.

Really? So if she’d been brought up with wolves in the middle of the jungle she’d be as good at teaching?

Everything takes practice; you have to learn how to do things. This takes time. To say otherwise is to abdicate responsibility in developing yourself and others.

5. Social networks & productivity

If you want to be more productive, limit the time you spend on Twitter and other social networks.

It depends what type of productivity, what you’re producing and whether you’re looking for quality or quantity. I literally couldn’t do my job to the same standard without the connections I’ve got on Twitter.

Go to conferences? Use Lanyrd.


Lanyrd: the social conference directoryBefore entering the realm with JISC infoNet, I really didn’t understand why there were so many conferences in Further and Higher Education . Now I understand:

  • The whole academic system is predicated upon papers, which need to be presented somewhere.
  • Lots of (usually JISC-funded) projects have to disseminate their outputs.
  • Some subject disciplines/specialisms can be narrow. People need to meet to discuss things.

Hence, conferences.

The Problem

There’s many conferences that may be useful to your research interests and specialism(s) but you may not hear about them until it’s too late. That’s particularly true if, like me, you’re given a brief in a topic to which you’re fairly new.

Up to now, I’ve been following influential people on Twitter, reading blogs and generally scouting around for a place I can find information about relevant conferences.

It’s far from ideal.

The Solution

I was delighted, therefore, when James Clay alerted me to a website that is focused on solving exactly the above problem. Lanyrd describes itself as ‘the social conference directory’ and works very well.

The idea is simple:

  1. You sign in using Twitter’s OAuth mechanism (so you can revoke access at any time)
  2. It finds out which conferences your friends are attending (you can indicate that other people are attending or speaking, you see…)
  3. You add yourself to conferences you’re attending or speaking at. There’s also the option to ‘track’ a conference.
  4. The (conference) world becomes a better place.

The thing about it is that, like Academia.edu, it’s a great idea that needs to gain traction through use. So please do have a look at it!

Feel free to check out my profile and follow me:

Why I’m not the Wizard of Oz

I’ve learned many important things in my life, but 2 broad truisms in particular are pertinent to this post:

  1. The more confident and able a person is in a given area, the more they’re willing to share.
  2. People learn at least as much from the process as they do from the end result.

So what’s the Wizard of Oz got to do with this?

  • The Wizard tried to look more scary and powerful than he actually was.
  • Behind the scenes tends to be fairly straightforward, given some pointers.
  • Working in isolation on something (or to maintain something) big is often unsustainable.

This is why I like to share both my outputs and the thinking behind them – as well as the half-finished, sometimes muddled, resources created along the way!

To that end I’m delighted to introduce http://onthehorizon.pbworks.com, a space I’m trialling on behalf of JISC Advance. You can find some of stuff I’m able to share as part of the mobile and wireless review I’m doing for JISC. 🙂

One week until #GTAUK

This time next week the first-ever Google Teacher Academy in the UK (#GTAUK) will be drawing to a close. I’m honoured to be one of the UK-based Lead Learners (along with Tom Barrett and Zoe Ross).

I’ll be running the session on Google Earth, one of my favourite tools for learning and teaching. I’ve set up a wiki in an attempt to not only provide resources for delegates, but for the wider community. You can access and contribute to it at:


(short URL: http://bit.ly/gtaukge)

Is it time to get rid of secondary schools?

One of the really interesting things that’s coming out of research I’m doing at the moment is just how increasingly irrelevant secondary schools really to the lives of young people. There’s loads of great stuff going on in Primary schools. Really innovative, pedagogically-sound stuff. There’s also awesome things happening in Further and Higher Education.

I don’t see it in Secondary schools. Pockets here and there perhaps, but not to the same extent. And, more to the point, nor do the researchers and innovators to whom I’ve been speaking.

So what’s the problem? What’s holding back innovation in secondary schools? Well…

  • Teachers blame senior leaders
  • Senior leaders blame the curriculum
  • The curriculum was, up until recently, the responsibility of the QCDA
  • The QCDA blames the examination boards
  • The examination boards blame the government
  • The government blames lack of innovation in schools.

Now that the QCDA has been given its notice, this is a massive opportunity for secondary schools. People talk about the ‘crisis in higher education’. That’s just a funding crisis. The real crisis is 11-16 year olds voting with their feet.

What can we do about it? Take a stand, for a start.

So I’m not really proposing that we just let anyone over the age of 11 wander the streets. Of course not. But I do think that the organizations that form the secondary ecosystem have a whole lot of work to do to win hearts and minds.

Flying without wings

We’ve got some house martins underneath our eves. It’s that time of the year when eggs that have become chicks get that one chance to learn to fly.

My son, Ben, visited his school this week. He starts nursery there in September. He’s full of enthusiasm and could have started at Easter but we didn’t think he was ready.

I’ve scraped up five house martin chicks in two days. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

It’s easy to see when something physically dies. It’s less easy to see confidence shattered, an internal fire put out, inquisitiveness squashed.

It’s not easy being a parent or a teacher. Remember Icarus? It works both ways.

Things I Learned This Week – #28

Offline this week I learned that running two 10k’s in a week doesn’t actually kill you, that ‘location-based task chunking’ aids productivity and that the Kindle rocks (although technically the latter can go online as well…) :-p
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Things I Learned This Week – #27

Offline this week I learned that sometimes you’ve got to just grab the bull by the horns and take the lead, that lemon curd has never stopped being insanely tasty, and that camping with a 3 year-old is actually quite fun!
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