Tag: teaching (page 1 of 8)

Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies [DMLcentral]

Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies

My latest post for DMLcentral was published while I was away on holiday this week. It’s entitled Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies and in it I apply some of the insights from Kathy Sierra’s book Badass: Making Users Awesome.

Read the post

Comments are closed here, but I’ve cross-posted to Medium, so you’re welcome to recommend or reply there, as well as at DMLcentral.

Note: the Medium version of this post has a great ‘fried egg’ image created by Bryan Mathers that’s much better than my attempt in the original article!

Why I left teaching five years ago

Last week after another extended FIFA15 session I tweeted:

This led to the anonymous blogger behind Exit Teaching getting in touch via Twitter for the backstory to me leaving the classroom. I’m happy to share it as it’s something that a lot of people in similar situations struggle with. I hope it helps someone!


1. Why did you become a teacher?

Teaching was actually something I’d actively tried to avoid! My father had been Deputy Head of my high school and I’d seen how busy he’d been. I was in my third year of a Philosophy degree when I realised that I was about to need a job. My dad advised me to do my PGCE as ‘something I could fall back on’. After completing a self-funded MA in Modern History, that’s exactly what I did and became a History teacher. I loved it! I’d often say that if there was a roof over my head and food on the table I’d have taught for free!

2. What was your previous role? What are you doing now?

I taught History and a bit of ICT for six years in total. My last job in teaching was as Director of E-Learning of a large academy. I was there for a year and left in 2010. In April 2015 I made the jump to full-time consultancy after some time with Jisc in Higher Education and the Mozilla Foundation, where I was on their education team.

3. Why did you decide to leave teaching?

I skipped middle management and went straight into senior management. I guess I blagged the interview. The position was in an academy that took over nine schools, including three I used to attend – and the one in which my father was Deputy Head. Some of my old teachers were in senior management with me, and some were still full-time in the classroom. Added to that, I was writing my doctoral thesis at the time and had a two year-old son.

Looking back, there were three main reasons I decided to leave teaching. The proximate cause was that I was asked to spend most of my time around behaviour management-related issues. This frustrated me as I felt I was doing too much of it. Another reason was that, although as a cocky twenty-something I felt that I was ready for anything, to be perfectly honest I could have done with some middle-management experience before taking the role. I was thrust into a position where I was line managing two failing departments and one where the Head of Department had just suffered a bereavement. I was a bit out of my depth and wasn’t supported.

The third reason is that I’m an ‘ambivert’ and somewhat of a perfectionist. While I can appear extroverted in social situations, I need time to recharge – but my teaching style didn’t give me the opportunity to do that. It felt like constantly being on stage. I was burning myself out term after term.

3. How did you leave? What were the challenges?

How it ended was a bit of an anticlimax. I won’t go into the ins and outs but I effectively looked around for anything that would get me out of the situation. I realised that I had to choose between a) staying and trying to make a difference (against the odds) in the area in which I grew up, or b) being there for my family and finishing my thesis. I chose the latter and started a job with Jisc infoNet, based at Northumbria University about a year after I’d started at the academy.

The Researcher/Analyst job I moved into was primarily office-based and I took a £10k pay cut, but there was a good deal of national travel. That was great for networking. Originally, I thought it would be a very temporary measure before returning to the classroom in the next academic year – but that never happened. I finished my thesis, made some good friends and contacts in Higher Education, and realised there was life beyond teaching.

4. How do you feel about work, career and life in general now?

I’m still very much in touch with the teaching profession. Almost everyone in my family is, or has been, a teacher. My wife is a Primary School teacher, some of my friends are teachers, and I still have a large network of people I follow via social media. In many ways, the work I do supports teachers of all stripes. At Jisc it was providing resources and guidance. At Mozilla it was inspiring and bringing people together. Now, in my new consultancy role, it’s all about problem-solving and providing solutions.

The work that I did in teaching in my twenties was unsustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do it now, in my mid-thirties, never mind in my forties or fifties. It may have been the way I approached the profession, but it’s no wonder so many people get burned out. It’s not particularly their fault – it’s the situation in which we find ourselves.

You don’t have to work all the hours and have no social life to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s probably a recipe for being out of touch with society and making yourself into a basket case. I’m much healthier now – I’ve started drinking chamomile tea, going to the gym/swimming every day, and even trying yoga and pilates! I’m calmer, happier in my own skin, and of more use to others.

5. What advice do you have for those thinking about leaving teaching?

I’m asked about this all of the time. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts of all time is one that explores the reasons teachers leave the profession. One of the problems is that moving into a different role outside of the classroom is often seen as a ‘failure’. Another is that, because it’s often a ‘vocation’ that people often go into an early age, those looking to move on aren’t always aware of their transferable skills.

I’ve found that my ability to stand up and engage only moderately-interested teenagers is a particularly useful skill. As is my ability to get things done. Invention is the mother of necessity, so the workflows you develop as a teacher stand you in good stead for getting stuff done outside of the classroom. Planning, preparation, knowing how to talk to external stakeholders (i.e. parents) – all of these are in-demand qualities.

Everyone’s situation is different and so it’s difficult to give generic advice. What I would say is that if you feel that your job – any job – is getting in the way of things you think are important, then you should consider doing something else. If your health (both physical/mental) or your relationships are suffering, stand back and re-evaluate. Teachers tend to be extremely loathe to take time off because of the ‘burden’ they’re placing on others. However, that’s the school’s problem. If you need to take a couple of days to get your head together, then do it. Better that then long-term absence and a cascading series of problems.

There’s so much opportunity out there. Teaching is a valuable and rewarding occupation. But it’s also stressful and relatively low-paid (if you stay in the classroom). Take your time to discuss it with people you know and respect. If there’s a consensus, start looking for something else!

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

An Unreasonable Man writes his Damn Book

The above image* was taken by Ian Usher at a co-design event just before I joined Mozilla in May 2012. It shows me in conversation with Oliver Quinlan (left) and John Bevan (right) both of whom are now at Nesta.

* Apologies for those reading this by email, you’ll need to click through!)

About Oliver’s book

Oliver’s written a book called The Thinking Teacher which I began reading this week. It’s a really clear and well thought-out approach for those who want to take a step back and think what it is that we’re actually doing when teaching others. For a limited time his book’s on special offer via Kindle for the bargain price of 99p. You should buy it.

Here’s a few things that I’ve highlighted already:

There are few other careers than teaching where everyone entering already has thirteen years of experience in the workplace.

Great observation. This is why (some) parents seem to think it’s OK to tell you how to do your job – and why edtech entrepreneurs think they know how to ‘fix education’. Of course, spending time somewhere as a ‘consumer’ is not the same as working there. It’s an imperfect analogy, but anyone who’s ever worked in a shop that they’ve also bought things from will know the difference between front and back of store.

If we are in the business of teaching and learning we have to believe that most things are learnable. All things being equal, it is possible to make significant changes in yourself and to learn. Of course, many things are situational: I am never going to be an Olympic gymnast – I am too old and my body is past it already. However, with enough time, dedication and practice I could certainly learn some gymnastic skills and improve.

I think the important insight here is that you don’t have to have the capacity to be the best in the world at something to derive use and satisfaction from getting better at it. Our world all too often tells us differently and it’s up to us as educators to push back on the holistic value of learning.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (George Bernard Shaw)

Although I’ve heard this paraphrased before, I never knew it was a quotation from George Bernard Shaw until Oliver used it to introduce one of his sections! Such a great and widely-applicable way of looking at the world.

Great teachers are immersed in their field, not as a syllabus but as a changing, developing entity, with new areas to discover and new questions to ask.

This is one of the things I miss about teaching. My field was History, but even that was an ever-changing landscape based on discoveries (‘out there’ and my own) as well as different intepretations and ways of visualising the past. We can apply this mindset to any area, though – for example I’m trying to ask new questions about what it means to be ‘literate’ on the web.

You should definitely snap up Oliver’s book while it’s on special offer. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it! Check out his blog and Twitter account too. 🙂

About YOUR book

Great though Oliver’s book is, my main point in writing this post is to encourage you to Write Your Damn Book. That’s the name of a course I received via email over the past year from Paul Jarvis. He’s now ended it – packaging everything up and making it available as a free PDF (5.2MB)**

You should write your book this year. Seriously. People are waiting to hear your unique take on life. They want to find out more: what do you wake up every day thinking about? For those of you who blog regularly, why not select your best posts and self-publish? Curate your stuff and put it out there for people to read! Books help you reach out of your echo chamber.

You can create a book using your favourite word processing software, export it to PDF and sell it on Gumroad. Or do as I’m doing for the two books I’m writing this year and try out Leanpub as a total solution. If you want a physical copy, I’ve had success using Lulu. There’s something about having a physical copy in your hands but, either way, it’s the intentional curation that counts.

You know, I bought myself a cheap bit of wall art before Christmas. It’s ironic given the title of Oliver’s book, as it says THINK LESS. DO MORE. Some of us need to do less doing and more thinking. But for me, my motto for 2015 revolves around less thinking and more doing. What’s yours?

** If that link doesn’t work, try this one (archive.org)!

3 things I saw at the Mozilla Summit that blew my mind

At the Mozilla Summit in Brussels this weekend I saw three technologies in particular that could revolutionise the (learning and teaching) world I inhabit. I’d include Open Badges, Webmaker and the Web Literacy Standard in there, but I blog enough about those. 🙂

There were awesome ideas at the summit as well – most notably around User Personalization (UP). But for this post I want to focus on things you can play with right now. I’ve written more generally about the Summit on my conference blog and you can see some photos I took in this Flickr set.


1. Together.js

Together.js is two lines of JavaScript you can add to a website to enable realtime collaboration. Check out the video above to see some scenarios in which it could be useful. For online teaching and learning I think this is awesome.

2. AppMaker

While Mozilla AppMaker is still in ‘pre-alpha’ it can be used now and has an exciting future ahead of it. AppMaker is a really easy and straightforward way to create HTML5 cross-platform apps that can be used on FirefoxOS and, indeed, on any device that supports the Web.

Read more about AppMaker on the Mozilla Labs blog.

3. Shumway

Shumway

Flash on the Web is past its best. It was a dying, proprietary platform even before Steve Jobs hammered the nails in the coffin. However, there’s still some decent Flash-based stuff out there, so how can we make it accessible in a secure and HTML5-friendly way?

Enter Shumway. It’s currently in Firefox Nightly and should work its way onto the main release channel in a few months.


Were you at the Mozilla Summit? What did you see that was awesome?

Is Michael Gove systematically dismantling English state education?

Would you trust this man with your kids?

Is Michael Gove systematically dismantling state education in England?

I’m not sure.

To believe so presumes competence, intention and strategy on his part. Most of what I observe is an ill-informed sociopath flapping about at seemingly-random educational targets.

See what you think by looking at these BBC News stories since the beginning of the calendar year:

So no need to be a qualified teacher in England any more. This news, of course, was buried by being announced on a Friday in the school holidays, on the very day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Perhaps that was to avoid another strike by teachers like the one in November 2011?

From where I’m sitting, this looks like part of a wider move to centralise schooling in England. There were huge financial incentives for schools to become academies. Now, even if the money’s not there, there’s certainly political and other kinds of pressures bearing down on headteachers and governors.

Once English schools all become academies they’re outside of local authority control but under the direct control of Whitehall. Gove may bleat that academies have powers to do this or that, but when there’s no buffer between the headteacher and the all-powerful politician in control of the money, there’s no real contest.

Michael Gove is the most power-hungry, dangerously reactionary, and misguided millionaire Secretary of State for Education we’ve had a for a long time. He proposes yachts for over-privileged, taxpayer-funded families and gives out religious texts inscribed with his name. Meanwhile extra cash for the most deprived boroughs is turned down and, in the midst of one of the most sustained attacks on the profession in living memory, teachers are expected to roll over and accept performance-related pay.

Who will rid us of this troublesome beast?

Image CC BY-NC staticgirl

Lesson plans, social bookmarking and the purpose of education: a response to the latest Hack Education podcast

Hack Education

I was fortunate enough to meet the amazing Audrey Watters and Steve Hargadon when I was over in San Francisco earlier this year. The authenticity of the ‘Irish’ pub in which we met was questionable, but their commitment to furthering education certainly isn’t!

Steve and Audrey have a weekly podcast in which they reflect on Audrey’s (prolific) written output over the past seven days. Today I listened to the one embedded at the bottom of this post (also here). They’re both so insightful that I wanted to be part of the conversation. The only way I can do so at the moment is by adding my thoughts here.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Lesson plans

Steve brought up the point that companies build business models around the idea that teachers want to share lesson plans. He questioned whether that’s actually true.

Not in my opinion.

In my experience, the needs of classroom teachers (which used to include me) are on a spectrum related to interest. So, for example, I’d spend hours researching and creating resources around 1066 and the Norman Conquest. I love that period of History.

On the other hand, I tried to get the Agricultural Revolution out of the way as soon as possible, and used resources in my lessons almost entirely created by other people.

And that’s the difference: if you’re a motivated teacher, you don’t want prescriptive lesson plans for stuff that excites you. Of course, if you’re an ineffective, demotivated teacher, you’ll grab as many lesson plans as you can.

Lesson plans are different to learning resources. I used to have a huge collection of both physical and digital resources, neatly categorised, upon which I could draw. Very motivated and effective teachers within the UK History teaching community would share these – but do different things with them.

Sharing lesson plans as a business model misses the point, I think. Learning, as both Audrey and Steve pointed out, is about relationships not content-delivery.

Social bookmarking

One of the tangential conversations Steve and Audrey had was around social bookmarking. Steve ‘confessed’ to not really using social bookmarking services such as delicious or diigo any more.

I’m glad it’s not just me.

Since delicious has changed hands from Yahoo! to some randoms, I haven’t even got the bookmarklet or Firefox extension installed. I re-find things either through a search engine, my Thought Shrapnel tumblr or Evernote. As Steve mentioned, the personal (primary) benefit is more important than the (secondary) social benefit in this regard.

What I did find interesting is that Audrey uses Pinboard which positions itself as ‘social bookmarking for introverts’. I’ve got a (paid) account there, so I may give that another try.

The purpose of education

Time and time again, Audrey came back to the purpose of education. It’s not about content delivery. It’s not about power. It’s not about money.

This is something that’s obviously close to my heart.

I really enjoyed listening in to Steve and Audrey’s conversation and shall do so regularly. I just hope that as the podcast develops they summarise the stories before analysing them. What’s huge in the US (for example) is sometimes barely reported over here in the UK. I had to read between the lines of the Penn State controversy, for example.

But that’s a minor, nitpicking point. Listen to the podcast. It’s awesome.

This is why teachers leave teaching.

Exit

On Thursday, Mark Clarkson wrote a blog post that started off like this:

I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.

Note the end of that sentence: a young, talented teacher with so much to offer the world feels like he has no ‘viable exit strategy’. There are thousands of teachers up and down the country feeling the same thing.

I should know. A few years ago I was one of them.

You should go and read Mark’s post. If you’re currently a classroom teacher you’ll be nodding your head at the bullet point after bullet point of bureaucratic, administrative nonsense he (and most other teachers) put up with. And if you’re not a teacher, you’ll be shocked.

On top of the ridiculous workload teachers like Mark experience each year, he notes that the benefits aren’t exactly stellar:

At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised… That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.

I’ve been out of the classroom for just over two years now. And already my wife, a Primary school teacher, has to remind me what it’s like. I consider setting off together for work five minutes late a minor inconvenience. But for her, and many teachers, it can make or break their day. I’m fairly sure teachers know what stress is.

Although I would say this, I think we need a review of what we’re doing when it comes to schools. We can’t keep cannibalising the goodwill of people in an underpaid, overworked, increasingly-attacked profession. I think we need a public debate about the purpose(s) of education.

I’ll give the last word to Mark. He echoes something I used to say repeatedly – until I decided enough was enough:

I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy.

TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.

 Image CC BY-NC paulbence

Conferences as Catalysts for Educational Innovation and Change [DMLcentral]

Photo of crowd from Flickr Commons

My latest blog post for DMLcentral is now online: Conferences as Catalysts for Educational Innovation and Change.

A select morsel:

The face-to-face nature of conferences is, I believe, of even more importance in an extremely digitally connected world. Whilst it’s often the case that you can get to know people very well online, there’s something about embodied interaction that makes your knowledge of that person three-dimensional. I don’t think one method of interacting is necessarily ‘better’ than the other; a blended approach is best. This, I suppose, is why social media is so popular.

In addition, my opinion on Apple’s new iBooks Author was quoted on the JISC site this week. However, they mistakenly listed me as a ‘practising teacher’.

That little slip made me realise just how much I miss it…

My mobile learning article for the Guardian Teacher Network

Whilst I was enjoying the sun in Malta and Gozo last week the Guardian Teacher Network published an article I wrote entitled How to use mobile devices in the classroom. It’s a piece I wrote originally in the wake of the #govephonehome debacle and then edited for publication a couple of months ago. It links to the lesson plan and presentation that regular readers of this blog will already have seen. 🙂

I wouldn’t have used the image included in the article as I think it displays the opposite logic to the position I’m arguing; it posits a negative whilst I’m espousing a positive. I suggested the photograph above but am at the mercy of editors!

I’m speaking at the Guardian Innovation in Education event next month. There’s still tickets left and the website features an interview with me here.

Image CC BY mortsan

How to teach using mobile devices

iPad

I’m mentioned in The Guardian today in a short article entitled How to teach using mobile phones. However, as is the case with such things, what appears and what I submitted are two different things. For a start, my emphasis was on mobile devices more generally (not just phones!)

Thankfully, they’ve still linked to the resources I was asked to produce. If the link in the article doesn’t work (it didn’t for me) just search ‘mobile devices’ at the Guardian Teacher Network. I’ve decided to reproduce what I originally wrote here:

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to be in the pocket or bag of every young person it’s some kind of mobile device. They may forget their planner or even a pen, but they’re unlikely to be without their mobile phone. This, understandably, can lead to some frustration.

From the smartphone to the iPad to the Nintendo 3Ds the range of devices that young people have access to is growing – and so is their power to connect people. However, many parents, teachers and even children themselves are unsure as to how mobile devices can be used for anything more than entertainment. Do mobile devices have a place in the classroom? Are they merely distractions to learning?

On the Guardian Teacher Network, you can find now find a PowerPoint to get adults and children alike thinking about how they can use everything from their mobile phone to their games consoles for learning. The PowerPoint gives 10 different scenarios in which mobile devices could be used to add value to what goes on in the classroom – or even fundamentally change the types of activities that are available.

The associated Cribsheet gives suggestions and links to further resources as to how discussions about mobile devices can be framed with school governors, senior leaders, teachers, parents and children. There are many ways in which the resources can be used – everything from a PSHE lesson (perhaps drawing up guidelines to responsible and appropriate use) to Staff CPD or even a ‘town hall’ style meeting with parents.

With schools increasingly having the freedom and powers to innovate around the traditional curriculum through Academy, Trust or Free School status, now is a good time to be talking through the issues involved in mobile learning. Not only will it really engage pupils, but there’s the potential for it to be used as a ‘trojan horse’ for real curriculum change!

This was the second, more objective, draft. I’ve been promised that my first, longer and more polemicised draft will be used in a few weeks’ time. We’ll see.

PS Congratulations to @colport and the people behind #ukedchat – they’re mentioned in The Guardian today as well: Twittering classes for teachers

Image CC BY mortsan

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