2017 AIS ICT Leadership Conference

AIS Storify pic

Full disclosure first up. I’m on the organising committee for the AIS ICT Leadership Conference and have been for the last four years. I’m going to talk about this conference in glowing terms in the next few paragraphs, so you can decide to take my words on board or take them with a grain of salt. Your choice. 🙂

This a conference designed for IT Managers and their support staff to come together, share knowledge, and be inspired by carefully selected keynote speakers. Now, you might note that I’m not in the role of IT Manager any more in the school I teach at. I’m now occupying the eLearning space as Head of Digital Learning and Practice. But that’s what is truly great about this conference. It recognises the intersection between making the back end of IT at a school work seamlessly with the front end – how it impacts on the possibilities for teaching and learning within said schools.

And that’s a very important thing to note. If an IT team has lost sight of what their purpose is in an organisation like a school, then there’s the possibility that the direction an IT team takes may not be in tune with the primary purpose of a school – the education of young people. In today’s world, as it becomes increasingly important that our students gain digital literacy skills that will assist them to navigate a world dominated by technology, then having IT teams closely integrated and cognisant with the educational direction a school is taking is critical.

What was pretty clear last week was that there are plenty of IT Managers and staff working in IT Teams who are fully across what their purpose is in a school. You can see for yourself if you take a look at the Storify of tweets I compiled from the three days the conference ran last week.  Conference participants were lucky enough to listen to Dr. Jordan Nguyen talk about the work he is doing with assistive technologies that are changing the lives of people affected with severe disabilities. At 32, Jordan is one of those exceptionally impressive human beings who makes you feel like you’ve been frittering away your time. Take a look at this TEDx Sydney talk where Jordan discusses how technology is reinventing humanity.

They also got to hear from Michael Carr Gregg, an Australian psychologist who would be very well known to many of you reading this. Michael talked about student mental health and technology. What was refreshing about this talk was the fact that Michael wasn’t proposing that our young people ditch the technology they use  – he acknowledged it’s pervasive influence on their lives, but pointed out both the negative and positive influence it can have. Michael delivered a rapid fire presentation where he shared many website links and apps that young people with mental health issues can access to help them deal with anxiety and depression. I tweeted furiously during this session, trying to capture as much as I could. The Storify has collated my tweets and those of others who were also tweeting at lightning speed. I’d recommend you take a look. I really need to find time to look at websites like ‘The Brave Program’ and see what they are doing to support our young people and their parents.

The Brave Program

Students from Northern Beaches Christian School have been in attendance over the last couple of years filming sessions as the Conference Media Team. They are very ably led by Chris Woldhuis, Deputy Principal, 2016 NSW ICT Educator of the Year and all round very nice guy. It’s fantastic to see these students take the reins, do a magnificent job, and bring what is a very important student presence to the conference.

I’d encourage IT teams from across Australia, NZ and our counterparts in International schools in SE Asia to make their way to Canberra in 2018 for the next conference (dates still to be determined). It’s a community conference – social events are part of the costs and the all in nature of them foster collegiate networking opportunities for both conference participants and vendors. This year we all ventured to the National Portrait Gallery for drinks and substantial canapes, and the next evening the conference dinner was hosted in the Great Hall at Parliament House. John Clear, who works at the AIS, and Graeme Kachel, the conference chair, worked tirelessly to ensure everything ran smoothly and they deserve much credit for the success of the conference.

Most importantly, we took away a lot of learning that will help all of us do our work better in the schools we inhabit. And that’s a good thing. 🙂

Thinking things through…

I return to work tomorrow. Sigh…

2016 was a big year for me. Not a big year for this blog, but a big year for getting stuck into seriously difficult work at my current school and ensuring that the work that needed to be done got done. It’s worth a blog post of its own, and I just may write one. There was a lot of learning to be had and, dare I say it, many opportunities for “personal growth”.

Unfortunately, this blog’s growth remained pretty stagnant throughout. I’m not going to declare publicly that this situation is going to change in 2017 because I’m beyond making false promises. If I become more prolific, then that will be a good thing, because I’ve found writing cathartic – cleansing for my soul. But, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t. One thing 2016 taught me was that it’s OK – essential even – to take care of your mental state when you are working yourself hard. I found solace in my family, in quiet moments with friends, in reading without feeling the need to break it down in a blog post to help others understand it too. I adopted a slower pace, and it’s taught me that caring for me is pretty damn important.

So, for the last three weeks I’ve sat in the sun, enjoyed time with family and friends, read my Twitter feed (that’s a constant), and discovered some great viewing on Netflix. I’m rested.

One of the Netflix finds was ‘Black Mirror‘, a series that explores in single stand alone episodes the potential impact of new technology and the effects it may bring to bear. It’s fascinating and unsettling all at once. While trying to find out more about the series writer, Charlie Brooker, I came across this YouTube clip of him discussing what provoked the series creation.

I was entranced by the first part of the interview, as so much of what Charlie said echoed thoughts I’ve had over the past year. Like Charlie, I’m increasingly concerned about our inability to control technology that is going to have an impact on all of our lives and I worry about future possible scenarios that may play out. Charlie speaks of how he became fed up with writing columns as there was a cacophony of noise with so many sharing extraneous information. I’ve felt much the same at times. There are so many people writing in education spaces and it seems (feels) like my contribution would be pithy so I find myself withdrawing, lacking the drive to contribute, or starting, and creating for the first time ever, unfinished drafts that never see the light of day.

Maybe, as Charlie thought, I’ve already said enough?

Well, I’m writing this post so I don’t really think so. (Heck, Charlie wrote series episodes!) I do have words, thoughts, ideas to contribute. Maybe a few unfinished drafts will see the light of day, maybe I’ll write about lessons learned over the past year. Maybe I’ll write about my concerns around the technology I saw as liberating in 2008 morphing into scenarios not unlike those dreamed up by Charlie Brooker for his Black Mirror episodes.

Time will tell. In the meantime, a return to work beckons. What will 2017 bring? Time to write, reflect, contribute, or a need to find energy from slowing down, caring for the soul?

Like I said, time will tell…

Am I a serial signer upper?

I recently enrolled in Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom course entitled, Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory.  I’ve always admired Howard’s work and have referred to ‘Net Smart’, his book describing how to thrive online, in numerous Keynote presentations.

I’ve been an infrequent blogger of late, and felt that immersion in a community of learners would help me get my mojo back. Things started well. I was ahead in the readings, posted a blog and added to the forum discussions. Yep. I was back.

Then, unsurprisingly really, work and life got in the way. Below is what I posted to the classroom wiki just the other day.

 Hi Everyone,

I’m one of the people with great intentions who has found it difficult to keep up with this course. I’m trying to set time aside but life keeps interrupting. Issues I am having:

1: Time zone I’m living in is working against me. The online sessions are at 4.00am and 1.00pm.  I’m working full time so need the sleep, and the 1.00pm session has been on a Friday- middle of my working day. I’m conscientious about doing the right thing by my employer so tuning in for the 1.00pm session doesn’t work.

2: True confession. I haven’t watched the recordings. No excuse. Sorry.

3: I kept up with Week 1 readings, got some of week 2 completed, yet to start Week 3. Not boding well. But I’m going to try.

4: Feeling like I don’t have enough to contribute to the forum discussions. Sometimes feel out of my depth, especially with the scientific discussions.

5: I’m behaving like a lurker. Reading posts, but not writing replies. Not really like me. Maybe I’m feeling intimidated.

6: Thought the timing of this course would be good, but work has been frantic and my Dad is worryingly deteriorating in a nursing home with Lewy Body Dementia.

7. Beginning to wonder if I am turning into a serial ‘signer upper’ who doesn’t deliver. Have signed up to 3 MOOCs in recent times and just haven’t had the time needed to devote to them.

Things I’m grateful for.

1: I’m a teacher. Feeling out of my depth helps me to understand how students can feel in a classroom. A good reminder that can teach me something.

2: The course has introduced me to readings I haven’t encountered before. I referred to Lynn Margulis and Mitochondria in a discussion the other day. Could bring something to the conversation I hadn’t known before and helped my friend learn something new.

3: I’ve enjoyed reading forum postings and blog entries. Thank you to those who have been posting.

4: Long time admirer of Howard’s work, first time participant in a course. Great to be able to see his mind at work.

I’m not giving up! Will do my best to increase my effort.

I’m still trying to hang in there and become one of those people who is not a serial signer upper and non deliverer, but the truth of the matter is that I just can’t do it all. In recent times I’ve signed up to at least three MOOCs. I have the very best of intentions, but my commitment to my work and my family have meant that participation falls to a low rung on the ladder.

The really great thing is that the other people taking the course have let me know that they are experiencing the same issues I’m facing. Some of them have returned to Howard’s courses numerous times and have had a continual struggle with the kind of participation level to sustain the kind of community Howard wants us to build.

I don’t want to let Howard down and I do want to get my mojo back. It is kind of ironic that a course about cooperation theory is suffering from a lack of cooperation. Best that I find my way back to the wiki and get a late start on Week 3’s readings!


ACSA Symposium – STEM, STEAM or HASS? Interrogating models of curriculum integration

The Australian Curriculum Studies Association (ACSA) held its symposium in Sydney on the 13th and 14th of October. It’s title was ‘STEM, STEAM or HASS? Interrogating models of curriculum integration‘. It seems that educators everywhere, particularly those in Secondary Schools, continue to grapple with a system that has taught subjects in silos for as long as formal education has been on offer. As we face the challenges of changing workplace scenarios and expectations, and endeavour to develop in our students what the Foundation for Young Australians terms ‘Enterprise skills’, many schools are looking to find ways to use models like Project Based Learning to bring disciplines together to work in tandem to develop skills and address knowledge acquisition.

enterprise-skills                                Foundation for Young Australians: The New Basics

I was very keen to attend as there were a number of people within my network who were presenting and I’ve been following what they have been doing for some time. Case in point, Gavin Hays, now Assistant Principal at Parramatta Marist High in New South Wales. I’ve been watching the Project Based Learning journey of Parramatta Marist since 2008. Gavin’s presentation shared the commitment this school has made to PBL and provided concrete examples demonstrating the effect this kind of curriculum structure has made to their community of learners. Impressive work indeed.

Other notable presentations were from Jane Hunter, Bianca Hewes, Lee Hewes, Jake Plaskett, Nicole Mockler and Steve Collis. There would have been others I’m sure, but you can only be in one place at a time at a conference!

As is my custom at conferences, I try to tweet as much as I can so that I can share what I am learning with those who aren’t able to attend. I’ve put together a Storify of the tweets I posted over the two days and where possible, I’ve added photos and links that will take you to resources mentioned within the sessions. Click here to take a read.

What I think was apparent from the schools who had successfully developed integrated curriculum models was that a whole school approach had been taken and programs had been developed over successive years. This is no easy task. To be successful requires the development of a school culture that can embrace change and place value on collaborative learning. It requires shared vision, strong school management, leadership from many facets of the school, trust in your teachers, a willingness to rethink the structure of the timetable, respectful relationships and close communication with your parent and student body. No easy task, but without a doubt, worth it.

School’s out Friday

What’s in a name?

Well, plenty of us will be soon to find out as we return to school and start talking about G Suite instead of Google Apps for Education.

Yes, Google made an announcement today that they are changing the name of Google Apps for Work to G Suite and Google Apps for Education will now be known as G Suite for Education. That’s an awful lot of rebranding that’s going to have to take place at Google’s end, and those of us used to using the #GAFE hashtag for Twitter posts and bookmarking are going to have to adapt too.

One of the changes introduced is the addition of ‘Explore’ in Google Docs and Slides. (Explore was introduced in Sheets a while ago). The idea behind explore is for it to give you suggestions based on the content within your document. Unfortunately, explore has replaced the Research tool that I found to be extremely useful to use with students. What is missing now is the ability to filter content according to Creative Commons licencing and you can no longer add a citation and select the citation format you would like to use. Hopefully the folks at Google will recognise that many teachers directed students to this tool and they will improve functionality within explore by introducing features from the Research tool.

After having spent the last few weeks of Term 3 emailing staff and students about the access they now have to Google Apps for Education, I’m going to have to think about how I start talking G Suite and not Google Apps. Adaptability – it’s the name of the game in today’s world.

Enjoy the weekend. Those of us who reside in Melbourne will be consumed tomorrow afternoon with the AFL Grand Final. I’m hoping to see Footscray rise to the occasion and take the win. Nothing like seeing an underdog succeed. 🙂


David Whyte – language we need for the times we live in

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.”

The words of David Whyte, from the poem, Sweet Darkness.

David Whyte

If you’ve never heard of David Whyte, then I suggest you make yourself familiar with his work. A good start is to listen to him interviewed by Krista Tippett at the On Being podcast. That’s where I first heard him, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Not long after I listened to this podcast, I was fortunate enough to hear him speak at The Edge in Federation Square. It was a gift to listen to him share his verse and touch many of us with words that spoke to situations we were dealing with, each in our own way. When David recites his poetry, he repeats lines, phrases, and stresses key words. It’s so impactful. You listen even more carefully, craning for insight.

David’s back story is fascinating. He studied marine zoology and found himself in the Galapagos islands observing wildlife. What he also found was that the scientific language he needed to describe their habitat and interactions wasn’t enough to fully appreciate and encompass the experience, and he found those words by returning to poetry. Eventually, he immersed himself fully in his craft. Here’s what he shared in the On Being podcast explaining how he ended up working for companies in corporate America.

And so when I went full-time as a poet, I was only a year into it and I spoke here in Washington, D.C. at a large psychological conference. And at the end of the conference was this line of people, and at the end of the line was a man who, in best American fashion, said, “We have to hire you.” And I said in best Anglo-Irish fashion, “For what?” [laughs] enthusiastically. And he said, “To come into corporate America.” And I said, “For what?” And he said a marvelous thing, actually. He said, “The language we have in that world is not large enough for the territory that we’ve already entered.” “The language we have in — and in your work, I’ve just heard the language that’s large enough for it.”

And of course, he was talking about the territory of human relationship that the workplace was entering, and the movable human relationship, and the movability that the organizations had to have. And the only place that came from was from the individuals who actually worked within the structures. So it was the breaking apart of many of those structures. And I don’t think we quite realize how over-structured our organizations were just 25 years ago or 30 years ago. There are still plenty of dinosaur ones left for us to still go and live in if we want them, but …

These words sang to me. As I’ve stepped into leadership positions over the last few years my understanding of the power of words to bring people with you has only intensified. I’ve appreciated how words can move people, can frame change scenarios in ways that make people want to come with you and not turn the other way. As many of us work within our schools to envision what is necessary for children navigating futures less certain than ours ever were, we need to find the language that will ease our people into a deeper understanding of the role they need to play. An investment in ideas and a willingness to reflect and review will help prepare our children and build our capacity in the process.

At the AIS ICT Leadership conference in May this year I spoke briefly about podcasts and the benefits they can bring  – they’re an investment in yourself and your personal growth if you listen to the right ones. I mentioned On Being and referenced the David Whyte episode. Often, when you’re leading change, you have to have difficult conversations, ones you’d really prefer to avoid given the chance. But if you’re doing your job well, you don’t avoid them, you face them head on, even though it means you’re often doing so with trepidation. It’s a situation many of us have to face, and the words of ‘Start Close In’ capture what I think is necessary if you are going to build resolve and tackle things head on. I read this poem to the audience of mainly men. There seemed a bit of a stunned silence at the end of it – not sure anyone’s read a poem at an ICT Managers conference before, but hey, you never know when words will make an impact, right?


Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

~ David Whyte ~
(River Flow)

I suggest you start close in and take a look at David Whyte’s work. People of wisdom in times that require it are salve for troubled souls.


School’s out Friday

If you’ve been trying to impart the digital literacy message as long as I have, then you’ll appreciate a new video to help you spread the good word. Data to go from the UK’s Cifas (Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance Service) is very effective. Ramming home the message that protecting your privacy settings on sites like Facebook is an essential life skill in a world where what we share or inadvertently reveal about ourselves can be used by fraudsters is something that deserves airtime in classrooms today.

While some may think there are a gazillion digital literacy/safety videos out there, the reality is somewhat different. The true reality is that once you’ve shown a video to a group of kids and it’s made an impact, then it’s done its job and they aren’t going to be tolerant of you rolling it out at your next opportunity to help them in understanding what it is they need to be doing to protect their privacy or reputation in online spaces. Setting up a YouTube playlist is a good idea to store the ones you know about and sharing this with your parent community can also be beneficial. Good reminders to myself to do that very thing. 😉

Enjoy the weekend – the end of the holiday period for Victorian teachers. Back to the grind on Monday! 🙂

School’s out Friday

This will brighten up your weekend.

Meet SpotMini, the latest robot from Boston Dynamics. This one can pick itself up after a fall, negotiate tricky spaces in your dining room and can even stack your dishwasher. A less attractive and embryonic version of Rosie from the Jetsons. I’m not sure about you, but if you’ve seen the state of my kitchen when I return home from a long day at work you would understand why I’m thinking SpotMini is a more than attractive option right now!

On another note, is it any wonder Google is off-loading Boston Dynamics? There has been speculation that peoples’ reactions to these robots fall into the ‘freak people out’ category and Google is distancing itself from them as a result. The reality still is that these robots are not making conscious decisions to rise from a fall or place a glass in a dishwasher. Human beings program them and control these actions.

We’re still a bit of a way until we see Rosie in our households, so until then, I’ll continue picking up after every member of my household and stacking and unstacking the dishwasher. Nothing like a decent bit of manual labour to distract you from the baggage of a hard day’s work. 😉

Have a good weekend. Revel in your humanity and stack the dishwasher by yourself. 🙂


School’s out Friday

Hey, it’s Friday. I don’t know about you, but I sure could do with a laugh, and Chewbacca Mum manages to make me smile every time I see her. Combine her with James Corden and there’s a Friday night treat to see us into the weekend. 🙂

My advice for this weekend ahead.

Chill. Sleep. Laugh. Eat chocolate. Appreciate your family. Spend time with good friends. Head out for a coffee. Catch a good film.

I intend to tick of a few of these. I hope you can too. Enjoy. 🙂


Slack…in name only

Finding an effective way to communicate when you’re working on a team project is challenging. Especially when your team is spread over numerous geographic locations. This has been my dilemma over the past 8 months or so. I’ve been deeply involved in the rollout of the main features of a Learning Management System across three main campuses and two residential campuses. Team members are located in the three main campuses and we’ve really needed to band together to ensure we are all focused on our end goals – training of staff in features new to them, the formation of a training site and associated documentation to support staff, the coordination of the movement of reporting into the system, introduction of the system to students, and parent training sessions (16 of them!).

To get this work done effectively, we’ve really needed to bond well as a team. Valuing each team member’s input, making sure that people are acknowledged for their effort, finding humour amongst the stress – all of this has been critical in helping the team develop shared purpose. We come together when we can, but much of our communication has been via phone calls and email. Traditional stuff. It works, but there are times when we need more instantaneous communication.

Enter Slack.


I created a Slack account in April, added one team member and then looked at it trying to figure out how it might be meaningful for us. I’ve read about Slack at length over the past few months, heard podcasts extolling its usefulness for team collaboration and I sat there staring at hoping the lightbulb moment would come when it would fulfill its promise.

It sat there. Not used.

Enter Newington College and Myles Carrick.

I visited Newington College to see the way Myles has led IT and Digital Teaching and Learning initiatives across the campuses there. It was a great visit, I learnt a lot and was impressed with the leadership Myles demonstrates for his team and the wider school community. Myles opened Slack and showed how he was using it for his team. Bingo! Lightbulb moment. Plane ride back to Melbourne and Sunday night spent inviting team members in the space and creating channels for communication.

Over the last two and bit weeks Slack has become a critical part of of our communication strategy. What helped was a pressure point around the creation of end of semester reports and associated documentation/videos we needed to create to support staff. We had a good reason to be there and so began our Slack conversion.

At Newington I’d seen how Myle’s team use GIFs to lighten the intensity of conversations that happen there. I found an app called Giphy that integrates with Slack. You type /giphy and then a word representing the idea you have and you see what GIF is pulled into the conversation stream. I honestly think the GIFs have made the adoption of this as a communication tool appealing for everyone. Lacing humour into conversation threads lightens our stress levels, and it’s even better when Giphy pulls in a GIF that might not hit the mark – laughter abounds and we can feel the human connection.

We used the todo app to create, of all things, a to do list! Using /todo assign as a command we were able to assign group members tasks that are forming our workloads this week. Slack sends you a weekly email letting you know the activity registered through the channels you have set up. Our intense first week with the pressure point reporting conversations saw the following activity:

Your team sent a total of 407 messages last week (that’s 407 more than the week before). Of those, 93% were in public channels and 7% were direct messages. Your team also uploaded 7 files (that’s 7 more than the week before).

One of the messages I sent was a link to this video from Slack. We were working like this team!

Things have leveled off in the space this week, but I think Slack is going to be a mainstay for communication across our team. It’s definitely a case of Slack in name only, because there’s nothing slack about the way it’s being used to improve communication. Thanks Myles for the lightbulb moment!