No Teacher is an Island (a Peninsula perhaps, but not an Island)

It’s been a very busy week and a bit with work. I’ve been in both Orkney and Shetland for their learning festivals, two very impressive events. In both cases, all teachers in the authority are invited to attend a two day in-service, and have access to a wide and relevant programme. I was there doing my Glow-vangelist bit, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first chance to run a Glow session on my own. I think I’m starting to know what I’m talking about.

Aside from working with the teachers, one of the benefits of the events was getting to know my LTS colleagues, as many of the Curriculum for Excellence team and other LTS types were there too. Although many of us are based in the same building, we’re so often out in authorities that we don’t know many of the people we work alongside. Even when we are in the building, being on a different floor means I rarely see those who’re based upstairs. It reminds me a little of school, where we didn’t have a staffroom. We’d cluster in our staff bases at breaks, and that’s only if we hadn’t sequestered ourselves in our classrooms to catch up with marking. As a consequence there were people who worked on the other side of the campus who you only saw at in-service days. Certainly, when I’d been there two years, I still met staff members who’d been there for longer than me, who would ask me if I was new. It does raise a slight worry about how the cross curricular aims of CfE can be met when you don’t even know who you’re working with.

Perhaps Glow can help with this. It seems faintly ridiculous on the surface to suggest working online with people whose classrooms are a hundred yards away from yours, but secondary teaching can actually be a very solitary business, where perhaps the only contact you have with your colleagues on a given day is a wave in the corridor as you’re welcoming your class. If you’re in a working group with your colleagues, or you’re planning a cross curricular project, working online could be more convenient than face to face meetings. The idea of discussion boards appeals, especially when it’s so hard to find times when everybody can be in one place together, and document stores make organisation of resources easier. There’s the added bonus that working online means your project or group doesn’t have to be limited to your school – if it’s relevant to you it might be relevant to other schools in the council or even the country, so why keep it small if you don’t want to? Where time and availability have been barriers in the past, there can be at least some progress if we work online.

But back to the Learning Festivals and getting to know people…It made a real difference to be able to speak to people whose faces you’d seen, but whose role you had no idea about. It was so encouraging – each and every person I talked to was full of enthusiasm about their role, and grateful for their secondment, It certainly made me feel more confident about where CfE is coming from because the range of experience and ability within the writing teams is phenomenal. I always expect to turn into a cynic about these things one day, but so far, so positive.

Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying o get across is one I’ve touched on before – no teacher is an island and we should realise that. We’ve got a great resource in our colleagues, with their own experiences and skills, and it’ll be a shame if we can’t get into the spirit of collaboration that CfE encourages (and that Glow brilliantly supports). And if we’re still islands, at least we can be a large archipelago with good links between each other, or peninsulas tethered to the same land mass of share ideas and resources 🙂

On an unrelated point, I was interested in something one of the ladies at dinner had to say about us technical types. She began by saying that when she first encountered people in education who were of a technical persuasion, she always noticed that those people were, how to put it nicely, erm, socially awkward. She went on to say that she’d noticed a gradual but definite change over the years, and in general now the technical types she comes across are just as social (or anti-social) as the general populous. Having grown up in the period she’s talking about, I haven’t really been aware of that shift, but I wondered if that rang true for anyone, and if it’s down to the user-friendliness of newer technologies – are the grassroots programmers and computing scientists still like the people she remembers?

Self-Rickrolling – A new low :-)

Spore’s getting a lot of attention on the web and in the wider world. Neil Winton made clear its addictive nature and commented on its educational potential, and it’s being discussed on the Consolarium on Glow. Neil made the point that it could be said to deal both with evolution and ‘intelligent design’ models of life, and as with anything touching on these areas, it’s dividing opinions. There are Christian bloggers applauding it for its God-centred approach, but at the same time there are sites like Antispore calling for it to be boycotted for teaching children evolution.

 My friend Kenny, a filmmaker and editor, took himself off to a well-known Glasgow tourist attraction to film a response to Antispore – I found it entertaining, and I thought others might too.

edit: Thanks to Neil for pointing out that Antispore is, in fact, a Rickroll cover site (see comments). Don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed – heh. I’ll leave the link so you can investigate yourself. Nonetheless, watch Kenny’s video, because ’tis cool.

Glowing Strong

Blog posts

Today I ran my last race for the year, the Strathcarron Hospice 10k in Denny. My usual running partner was off doing the Great North Run, so I was wandering about the starting muster on my own, attempting to keep within the patches of sunshine. A fellow solo runner came up to me and struck up conversation. We talked about previous runs, I let her borrow my phone so she could let her kids know when to come to the end of the road and wave at her, and we realised we were both originally from the same town. It turns out she’s an early years specialist at St. Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling. So of course, I ask her what she knows of Glow. She hadn’t used it, but her Headteacher is a technophile, so she’s going to go back and ask about it. She seemed really excited by the idea. She was also sure her daughter’s school was using Glow, and mentioned how impressed she was that she was able to use chat rooms to get help from her teachers.

So there you go – on a day when I really wouldn’t have expected to do my Glow evangelist bit, it happens anyway ☺

P.S. I ran the race in memory of my Dad. He stayed at the hospice a few times last year, and I can’t express how wonderful a place it is and how amazing the staff are. If you’re in the Falkirk area and you’d like to donate to the hospice, follow the link above to their homepage – any donation at all is gratefully received.

Subversion in Borders

I was in Borders this morning, looking for a copy of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko (see previous post), and doing my usual browse of the graphic novels. Just to the left of the Manga books was a slim display of books marked as a ‘Personal Study Selection’. Personal Study is what used to be the dreaded RPR in Higher English – review of personal reading – and requires the weans to read a book and write a Higher standard critical essay on it, supposedly with little teacher input, although it doesn’t always work out that way. A lot of bookshops have this kind of display, but I was impressed on first glance by this one. For a start, they had a whole shelf called ‘dystopian futures’. Fantastic. There were ‘ones by the girls’ with wonderful Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter titles among others, a nice selection in interesting classics, and a world fiction section, each with a pithy display card introducing the theme. Brilliant, I thought, this is the kind of thing they should be reading. Then I looked up……

 if you think you can


The selection of apparently shocking tales included American Psycho, The Piano Teacher, The Photographer of Vienna, Hunger and Swung.

You know, it probably says a lot about me as a teacher that I’m delighted by the concept, and by the choice of books, but dismayed by the missing apostrophe on the shelf card, which reads “Fictions dark and dirty side”.

I need help.

Lost for words…

…and not because I’ve nothing to write about. I’ve too much! Attended the Scottish Learning Festival (day 1) today, for the fourth year, but the first on the other side of the fence. It was particularly strange wandering about the Glow pods last night while the SECC guys were still laying carpet around me. As an attendee you don’t really think a lot about the preparation that happens before these big events, and it’s impressive.

I spent most of the morning demonstrating Glow to an endless stream of interested parties. I had a brilliant time. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Actually, I am. I expected to be standing about awkwardly for several hours on end with nothing to do. Reality=naw! There were queues, I tells ya, actual queues! The time passed at warp speed, and then I had to deliver a seminar.

Now, I wasn’t supposed to be doing it, but my colleague Tina was asked to help with a spotlight session that was happening at the same time, so I *ahem* volunteered. I’ve spent a week working on it, and it seemed to be pretty well received. It was well attended, and I didn’t panic and say “fwibble” or type “I am a fish” 77 times on a PowerPoint slide, so I’ll write it off as a success.

Afterwards, I attended an informal chat with the writers of the Curriculum for Excellence outcomes for Religious Education (Roman Catholic), as I’m their contact in the Glow team to support them with their National Glow Group – lovely people with great ideas, and it’s an interesting area to work on. I’m not religious but it’s an area of academic interest for me at least, and I think I’ll learn a lot working with the group.

I the, somehow, managed to blag my way into TeachMeet. My name wasn’t on the list because I’m a numpty. I thought I was going to the awards ceremony at my school tonight, but it turns out it’s tomorrow. I managed to sneak in and hide at the back, until I was rescued by John Daly, who recognised me from the back of the room despite it having been actual years since he’d seen me last. Thanks John!

TeachMeet was excellent. I hadn’t a clue what to expect in advance, but it turned out that I was exposed to so many fabulous ideas and examples of practice that my note-taking skills on the iPhone were nearly insufficient. Everyone was interesting, but a few highlights were:
* The delightfully understated John Davitt, extolling the benefits of living in both a paper and electronic world, and his delightful and infinitely useful learning events generator.
* Stuart Meldrum with the Hawick High School Global Classroom project.
* Neil Winton’s introduction to Johnny Bunko (even if it was a front to get people to add farewell messages to Ewan McIntosh to a presentation made up of pics of Ewan) and extra kudos for introducing me to “Where the Hell is Matt?” (you must stick with it until you see him at the DMZ).
*And special mention to the boss, for introducing the Glow Games viral game, which you may find below – have fun testing your mental acuity.

Play the Games!

 edit: the code wasn’t coming through properly and I didn’t like the music starting up automatically, so I’m just linking to the games instead of embedding them.

Man, there’s probably way more than that. It’s been a great day. And tomorrow will be even better – no seminar to give 🙂

A Busy Week

For most of last week I was in Orkney, with work. It was my first chance to really work with people at local authority level, and it was an entirely positive experience. The people, the set up and the future prospects for Glow in Orkney are all excellent, and I can’t wait to return early next month. Orkney Sunset

Being so busy, though, I haven’t had time to write here. As work becomes busier, it’s harder to find time to write. I’ll do my best to make the time though. One thing worth noting this week though, is the fantastic front page article of the Times Educational Supplement Scotland this week. One of the most exciting examples I’ve seen of Glow being used in the classroom is Jaye Richards’ S3 biology Glow Site. Ms Richards has published an impressive piece of research which was referenced in TESS. Proof, if it were needed, that Glow opens up the most amazing opportunities for education in Scotland.

I also think it’s important that Scotland is a relatively small country. From an educational blogger’s point of view, there’s a core of consistently insightful practitioners who share their ideas and experiences online (many of whom are linked to from my blogroll) and it’s easy to feel a part of their community. I don’t know if that would be possible with a bigger population. The same probably goes for Glow- the idea of linking schools and local authorities doesn’t seem too huge and unachievable because neither the geographical nor the ideological distances between us is uncrossable.

Why we’re doing this.

 I went to see Tony Benn at the Citizens’ Theatre last night. I’m not particularly political, but my mum’s a huge admirer of his, and I said I’d come along. He was as intelligent, insightful and entertaining as I’d expected, but one thing he said (twice, as it happens) keeps recurring to me. He said that “teachers who explain the world and movements which change the world are the way forward.” I’m not sure how broad his definition of ‘teacher’ was, although the importance of teachers was a running theme of the discussion, but it brought back to me the reasons I stayed in this job. Not the reasons I applied for it, which were the usual ‘good hours, good money, good holidays, what else will I do with my 2:2 in English?’ reasons, but the reasons I stayed. From the moment I observed my first lesson on my first placement, a good month or more into the course, I’ve known that education is a vocation of paramount importance. How many experiences, other than schooldays, are so widely shared by so many? What better place to allow the minds of those who would start those world-changing movements to explore and develop.

And there’re the dangers in education, not of incompetent teachers or underfunded schools, but in teachers lacking passion, and schools with a culture of low expectation. So much responsibility rests with us, for explaining the world and equipping others to change it.

The thing about teachers, though,  from my observation, is that responsibility doesn’t burden us. Rather, it frees us, as we know we’re doing something fundamentally vital to the world, and it makes us proud. Six years on, and I’m still delighted to reply to the question “so what do you do?”



Share and Share Alike (as long as we’re pals)

A message coming through in Scottish education right now is that collaboration is the way to go. If we want to provide the best opportunities for the kids we’re teaching, we might not have the best method, or the best resources, or the best ideas ourselves. Sharing is the obvious answer, and that’s a big part of what Glow is for. The interface itself is important, but more important is the culture-shift that I hope it will bring about.

Once upon a time there were books, and we used the books we had in the store cupboard. Then there were Banda machines (I’m told – actually even as recently as last year I’ve found some Banda sheets kicking about school) and we could share a bit more. And then there were photocopiers, and we could type up our units, carefully glue in the pictures and graphs, and copy as far as the budget allowed. Teachers could share units with their colleagues, but changing them maybe wasn’t so easy.

Enter the computer age (and for any schools I’ve experienced we’re not talking much before 1995) and we could create, save and change our work. We could stick it on a bit of magnetic film encased in blue plastic (I always preferred the blue floppy-disks) and give it to our colleagues, and maybe our friends from other schools if they asked nicely. And they could use it as it was, or alter it. We’re still talking paper, though, in the end. Still with the dead trees.

Then let’s skip forward to 2002, when I started training to be a teacher. Every class in my first school had a networked computer with internet access, and they were occasionally used, but not every day. Every teacher and pupil had email, but the teachers really didn’t use it, and if the pupils did it was frowned upon. There were two data projectors and one interactive whiteboard in a department of ten classes, and there’s not a hint of sarcasm when I say that was pretty far reaching – in my third placement the projector was kept in a bag in cupboard and had to be run through a stand-alone laptop.

Now, the teachers in my department at the first school had at their disposal the means to revolutionise their teaching. They all had Microsoft Office, but only one of them had used PowerPoint before. They all had Microsoft Word, and yet the units I found in use were typed or handwritten relics on peach and lime coloured paper. They had the means to share anything they created through email, but no-one knew their own email address, and most hadn’t ever opened Microsoft Outlook (this isn’t a plug for MS, by the way, I’m just reporting facts). This is no criticism of them. A shift was happening, and it was just beginning. The old ways were still the best, or the best known ways, and people had yet to become confident about what they could do for ICT, and what ICT could do for them.

Only six years later, and the world of teaching has been revolutionised. In the same school, communication is almost solely via email. Each department has a shared network space for courses, tracking data, individual resources and more. Instead of passing the dog-eared units from one class to the next, the file is emailed, adapted to suit the needs of the new class, and passed on when required. We still kill a fair amount of trees in copying, but nowhere near as many. Every class in the department has a data projector, every class bar one has an interactive whiteboard, and everyone is confident using and amending the files they need. Teachers and pupils communicate through blogs and email, kids Bluetooth their homework to their teachers, and the teaching world has changed.

What about the attitudes to sharing though? Everyone at that school is more than happy to share with their colleagues, which is a good start. Instead of everyone having to be good at everything, strengths emerged in different skills and all this is to the benefit of the pupils. So how about taking the next step and sharing with our colleagues in other schools, or dare I say it, other local authorities?

Ah, now there the barriers still exist. When I was still in the classroom, I became good friends with a colleague who was covering a maternity post. She was an excellent teacher, and was snapped up, when job time came around, by a well regarded school within the same authority. We’d spent our year working together in close collaboration, be it team teaching or sharing and co-creating resources, and there was no reason to stop at least the last two of these when she moved on (if it were today, we could have done all three with Glow meet  – shameless plug). We continued to send each other things we’d made, and being kind souls, allowed the other to share them with their department. Then a wonderful thing happened: our colleagues started sharing their resources, through us, with the other school. We doubled the brainpower, doubled the man-hours, and doubled the creativity available to us. I’d say, between the two schools, there now exists one of the best set of English resources around. From having to physically hand over resources from one teacher to another, having to find a place to keep them and having to reprint them when so many pages had fallen off that even sharing one between three was difficult, we’d gone in a few years to having a vast library of thousands of resources for hundreds of units, for all courses, available on demand and infinitely adaptable. I can’t express how amazing that seems, and how wonderful it’s been to be a part of it.

But we’re not quite there yet. The link between the two schools began with two friends, and it began with trust. Trust that we’d get credit for the original work, even if we said we really didn’t mind. Trust that the people who used what we’d made would share what they’d made. As soon as it’s suggested that resources are placed on the local authority intranet, or even scarier, on Glow for the whole nation to use, you can smell the panic. I can certainly empathise – there’s that dread certainty that two or three years down the line someone will email you this brilliant unit their friend made, and you realise that it’s something you did many moons ago with a few tweaks and a new by-line. There’s also the perceived unfairness – why should I work so hard and create this stuff, when someone can download it for free and get the good end results I get but without the graft? Even worse, why should I, in a school in a disadvantaged area, work tirelessly to give my pupils opportunities others take for granted and to improve results, then give all that hard work to a teacher in a school in a well-off area and let them widen the gap again? I think as a nation and as a profession we have a strong sense of fairness and justice, and the idea of someone getting the benefit of something we’ve done when we have no personal investment is a bitter pill.

However, we’re on the right road. If we can go from sharing with our friends in our department, to sharing with our colleagues in the same school, to sharing with our friends in other schools, to sharing with our friends’ colleagues in other schools, I think we can take the crucial step to sharing with those that are more than two steps removed from us. It won’t be easy, but we know why we’re doing it, and we know we can get a lot out of it too.

I hope to look back on this post in a few years time and remember that weird transitional phase when all the tools were there to share but we hadn’t made the mental adjustment yet, and smile at how unaware we were of the great things to come. Glow is giving us opportunities hitherto unheard of in education to widen our students’ minds and experiences, and I for one can’t wait.