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…

Looking back…

At the end of 2013, I read a post from Steve Brophy where he reflected on the year that was. Just the other day I read his 2014 reflection of the year that was. I’m thinking a reflection on the two years just gone is warranted seeing that I never got one posted last year!

In 2014, Steve took on a position similar to mine (Director of ICT and eLearning), and his summation of the experience echoes strongly how I felt in my first year. To go from being Head of Library and English teacher, to someone who has overarching responsibility for managing the school’s infrastructure and directions the school would be taking with platforms and devices, was a huge leap. Just getting my head around the language of the area I was now working in was challenging. Everything is an acronym, and you look pretty darn silly when you’re in meetings with vendors negotiating contracts if you don’t have a handle on an acronym. I’m not ashamed to admit there were occasions when I’d nod knowledgeably then retreat to my computer after a meeting to play catch-up with Google.

2013 saw the introduction of a new Learning Management System (Schoolbox) and 2014 saw the introduction of Google Apps for Education and Hapara Teacher Dashboard across our school. We also introduced Chromebooks and Nexus 7 devices in our Junior School as part of this move. These were huge undertakings requiring staff buy in for success. I’ve had to work out ways to communicate effectively to help staff understand systems and have tried very hard to offer professional development opportunities and well as support in online environments. I’ve found the following an effective way to explain new features quite effective when you’re starved of face to face contact with the whole staff cohort. Make a quick screencast using Screencast-o-matic, upload to Google Drive, embed in LMS and share via email.

I’ve continued to teach a class while taking on this role, and introduced a new elective called ‘Language of our Times’ focused on communication in today’s world. This meant creating new curriculum and shifting my pedagogy into methodology such as Project Based Learning – all in the midst of learning how to manage the network and introduce new systems! While it’s been challenging, it’s also been incredibly exciting. The students have loved the class and I’ve loved teaching them. True to form (for me, anyway) I’ve changed each unit from year to year, based on what the students need and responding to shifts on the Internet. Keeping a foot in the classroom keeps you grounded and enables you to model effective use of the systems you’ve introduced. Credibility with staff matters  – the old adage ‘Practice what you Preach’ really does hold weight.

Suffice to say, the last two years have seen me on an exponential learning curve, one that required a huge investment of time and took me away from blogging on a regular basis. It’s something I have mixed feelings about; there have been many times when I felt that I had something worthy of sharing, but the energy levels were low at the end of long days. I really do feel the need to reinvigorate this space – I’m hopeful that 2015 will see me post on a more regular basis.

What has really sustained my appetite for learning over the last two years has been the opportunities I’ve had to keynote at various conferences across the country. I derive energy from these experiences. Putting a keynote together sharpens my thinking and the interactions with conference participants really helps me remain committed to sharing what I know. What fascinates me right now is what the future holds and what this might require of us as educators. What are the learning environments we need to create to help our students navigate a very different world of work? What are the skills we need to teach effectively in new environments and what will school look like 15 years from now? My reading focuses on thinking around this  – I can be pretty interesting at conferences and pretty boring at dinner parties!

Looking forward…

What will 2015 bring? Consolidation at school level – no new platforms to introduce, but a focus on how to best use ICT to personalise learning experiences for students. In my view, we have the platforms we need – moving through the technology adoption cycle to appeal to the early and late majority is where the work lies.

I’ll continue reading and maintaining my Twitter presence – it’s by far the quickest way to share and the connections formed in that network are my go to place when I get discouraged at school level that change isn’t happening quickly enough. Communicating with like minds feeds my soul.

It’s my greatest hope that I will find time to invest in this space and share my thoughts and perhaps some insight into the work I’m doing at school level. Let’s see what happens when the pace increases – perhaps short bursts of content are what I need to aim for. Long reflective posts take time!