Nuggets (and not the KFC kind) …

The first “International Big Day Out” has come to a close, and if you followed the sessions on Twitter via #IBDO, you would have noticed a steady stream of quotable quotes being generated by the people holding the reins today. The gathering of “associates” from Independent Thinking certainly, in my experience, lived up to their collective motto: “To do things no-one does or to do things everyone does but in a way no-one does.”

The sessions were really “tasters” of an hour each, giving us an idea of the particular passion that each leader has followed and developed, but not really affording us the time to engage with their thoughts on a profound level. None of the sessions I attended had the luxury of a question and answer opportunity, which was understandable considering the time provided, but I was left wishing there was more time (which I guess was partly the objective of the day). Despite this, I came away with a number of “nuggets” that I would like to share.

Hywel Roberts (@HYWEL_ROBERTS) reminded me of the power of leading students into new and imagined contexts. This was a process that was part and parcel of life when I was a Drama teacher, but Hywel awakened my awareness to its potential in all subject areas, and this is an idea that I will take forward and use. In particular, the session reinforced the benefit of using created contexts to provide a space in which students feel safe to engage with new concepts. Listening to him speak about working in schools with students with Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties (EBD) took me back to my work as a Learning Support Assistant in Westminster, London, supervising adolescent boys who had been excluded from school because of violent incidents. I know how tough that work can be, and that deepened my respect for him and his work.

Roy Leighton (@Roy_Leighton) presented his keynote speech with impressive clarity and presence. I am fascinated by the work that people do around the process of change, and I appreciated his carefully thought-out system, harmoniously interwoven with an analysis of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be…” speech. Roy said that learning is knowledge being altered or even torn apart, which was a way of looking at it that I hadn’t considered before. It makes sense and I can see myself using this logic when talking to students. I repeat to my students that although I will do everything I can to understand their needs, they must tell me when I am going over old ground for them (as individuals), as this means that their current knowledge is not being challenged or disrupted, and they are therefore not learning. As I write, though, I wonder about the process of reinforcement / consolidation and how that fits in, that’s something to ponder another time. 

Simon Pridham‘s (@Simonpridham123) keynote speech touched home on a number of points that I am currently thinking about, connected to digital learning. His case study provides rich examples of what can be done when there is a strong vision driving technology integration. I appreciated the systematic approach he described, especially connected to empowering students to being part of the tech integration discussion. He underlined the importance of co-constructing a code of conduct with the students, and then holding them accountable for their behaviour just as we would for any aspect of school life. Simon also reinforced how powerful mobile phones can be, which supported my wish to see students using their phones in my classroom. I would love to be using QR codes, for example, and this is an avenue I will explore further. Simon’s practical approach almost made the process look simple, but I am more than aware of the challenges that lie ahead, and look forward to discussions with colleagues over the coming months.

It was a privilege to be challenged to reflect today, and I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with the people of ITL (@ITLWorldwide). They came to us, worked hard, and left us with ideas to chew over, although as Roy Leighton would point out, knowing without doing is not knowing. Time to get on with the doing!

If you go down to the woods…

The opportunities for professional development at our school are excellent. I previously worked at a school for 7 years in which minimal effort was expended on developing the skills of the staff, let alone on initiatives designed to spark change or encourage debate. So I genuinely appreciate every chance we get to step away from the daily schedule of working with children and take a moment to engage, learn and reflect. 

At our school there is an understanding that everything we need to do cannot be done in the time we have available on days we are teaching. Therefore, our Professional Development time is often dedicated to departments meeting and doing the necessary reflection and curriculum development that requires solid chunks of time. A day here and there may not seem like a lot, but anyone who doesn’t teach will never really understand how long a day feels (and how much can be done) when you don’t have to stand up and lead learning. 

The first set of PD days for us starts tomorrow and lasts two days. Tomorrow we have what is an inspiring line-up of speakers and workshop leaders, all participating in the first international “Big Day Out” under the umbrella of the Independent Thinking label (see more at The programme is here, and it was not easy choosing which session to attend as they all looked intriguing. In the end I decided to go for 3 keynote speeches and 2 workshops. I enjoy interacting with peers and being part of a workshop process, but I also appreciate listening to someone speak in a more formal way, which gives me the chance to cogitate quietly. I will attend the following sessions:

  • Session 1 (keynote) – Positively Brilliant Learning and Teaching by Nina Jackson
  • Session 2 (workshop) – Learning in Context by Hywel Roberts
  • Session 3 (keynote) – To Be, Or Not – Hamlet, The Butterfly Model and on Being Human by Roy Leighton
  • Session 4 (keynote) – The Future Classroom Today by Simon Pridham
  • Session 5 (workshop) – Are You “Open”, “Closed” or just “Stuck” – How to Engage In, and Enjoy, the Disruption of Change by Roy Leighton again.
Tuesday will be dedicated to technology in education sessions in the morning, including the kick-off session of the “tech think tank” I spoke about previously.

I will write up my thoughts on the “Big Day Out” sessions and report back on the tank progress (rumour has it they can be quite difficult to drive) in the next couple of days.

The tech tank!

Today a colleague (Carl Robinson – Drama teacher extraordinaire and publisher of and I made a brief announcement at a Faculty meeting inviting people to join us in a “tech tank”. When I think “tank” I think Tiananmen Square, but perhaps that’s just me. This is more of the “think tank” variety, slightly less concrete and more cerebral.

After 6 months of exploring how connections are being made on social media platforms between educators, I am absolutely convinced that the effort it takes to be involved is rewarded thousandfold (that’s not a mathematical promise, just a rough estimate). I have been moving slowly, one might say at a sloth-like pace, but I have been determined to not push too hard and then burn out and give up. Establishing an effective Personal Learning Network takes time, and I like to believe I have a healthy work-life balance (sleep is good). But, if you think “big picture” and avoid the temptation to become absorbed by Twitter et al., remembering what the point of all this is (collaboration and learning), then this process is fundamental to being part of what is building steam across the globe.

What draws me to this expanding online network of people thinking and communicating, is that it is people thinking and communicating. I appreciate how the tech is integral to the process, but I am not really interested in how it all works. There appears to be a genuine altruism at the core of the network, and I would like to share that with the people who I work in the same building as, as well as with the bodiless profile pics that I interact with online. 

I am confident that the group that gathers next week will be a positive team of people who are willing to explore and innovate (I have great colleagues!), and I look forward to being part of the process!