Exploring the Blue Sky

I love learning new things to use in my classroom and to improve the learning opportunities and experience of my class and the children my school. A week ago I hosted my 3rd TeachMeet Essex along with the wonderful Tom Sherrington @HeadGuruTeacher. It was a great event with some amazing, insightful and witty educational thinkers.

But away from events like TeachMeets, professional development is usually very different in schools. It is usually focused on what are felt to be the needs of the whole school to aid progression with the school development/improvement plan to improve the teaching and learning experience. Very noble. It is often also deadly dull and often doesn’t differentiate to an individual teacher’s needs and situation. These insets and training sessions tend mark the implementation of a big policy change and thus the way I teach.

I happen to like what I term ‘blue sky’ professional development which I encounter at events like TeachMeets and on Twitter, which is not necessarily focused on my particular needs, but offer insight in to how other educators do things and sharing the best that they do. I can choose want is useful and disregard what is not of interest. This provide what the Olympic GB team termed ‘incremental improvement’ – teachers learning and improving by tiny steps which quickly add up.

But is this personalised ‘buffet’ possible or even desirable in schools. I believe the answer to both is yes, but it is important that there is a conducive environment which allows and values individuals shaping their own CPD opportunities beyond the overarching framework – an environment which is lacking in many schools, where the minutiae of daily teaching is impose upon teachers.

Teachers need time to reflect and make any new knowledge, tricks and skills. They need time to digest, internalise and to make it their own. Teachers also need time to explore ideas for themselves and discussions on Twitter hones one’s thoughts which a wider range of educators.

Schools need to celebrate and draw upon the unique talents and different experience of its teachers and wider staff. Collaborate and share what brilliant ideas and techniques are being used in your school. You may be surprise what talents are hidden in plain sight.

Look out into the blue sky once in a while and explore possibilities from over the horizon.

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A Better Way

The call has been made and a whole community jump into action. Professionals continue to act normally in front of the children, but under this calm exterior the feeling of dread and darkness fills their hearts. The thought of the stress and anxiety the will follow makes grown adults verge on the edge of tears. The inspectors are coming.

discussionFirstly, let me set out by saying that I do not have an axe to grind with Ofsted, the Government’s school inspection organisation for England. Quite the contrary. Each time the inspectors have observed me teach I have been assessed as outstanding – the top grade. Yet, like most teachers, when the O-word is mentioned a feeling of dread and insecurity takes over. It shouldn’t be this way.

There is a better way. I understand that it is important to have external visitors visiting the school to improve that school and keep things fresh, but does the current system do this? I propose a more balance relationship with the inspectorate with allows a proper discussion about how to improve the educational opportunities and achievement in a school with ‘inspectors’ who are on the educational front-line. Two of the main criticisms of Ofsted is that they are unaccountable for the decisions they make and that they point out what is wrong about a school or lesson without in depth feedback of ways that they could be made better.

I envisage a system with elements of jury duty and the scientific peer review which selects a group of practising teachers from a range of other schools who form teams which go in and provide fresh eyes and help a school to improve as a ‘critical friend’. The visits could take place for one day per week for a number of weeks, so the teams could get a real feel for a school and so to not disrupt their own classes to much. I believe that teachers, pupils and the school community would much prefer to be helped to improve rather than judged. The teams would observe lessons, the management and the school as a whole and then help tailor CPD needs and offer suggested improvements the systems of the school.

I believe that a ‘report’ is still necessary for the community to know how a school is doing, but the focus needs to be on what will be put in place and development for the future. A ‘statement of intent’ if you will, which outlines areas seen as weaknesses and an outline of how the school intends to tackle them – Similar to a school improvement plan.

Schools deemed to have more need to improve would have more visits than schools deemed to be doing well.

I have never been to a school which didn’t want to improve and schools should continually look over their school wall to find innovative ways of doing things to provide better learning opportunities for their students. Hosting teachers from other schools to help identify areas to improve and create a dialogue between colleagues with similar issues is now becoming increasingly common and it provides some of the best opportunities to improve a school. Ofsted take note.

Edublog Award 2012 Nominations

ImageIt is time again to nominate tweeps from my treasured PLN and I have been thinking about who and what to choose for many weeks. There are so many superb educators out there who do their jobs superbly day after day just for the love of teaching and the joy that come from helping children be the best they can be. I feel very proud of my profession and by nominating a few of my colleagues I hope to show how proud I am of them.

My wiki page was celebrated in the Edublog awards as the ‘Best Educational Wiki’ last year which has been one of the highlights of my professional career. I hope that all on my list below can be celebrated in the same way. To me, you are all winners.

Individual Blog

Karen Bolotin’s @kbkonnected Tumblr blog at http://kbkonnected.tumblr.com is a superb collection of edtech and classroom goodies. Browsing just for a few minutes will give you enough ideas for lessons for weeks. Thank you for sharing great things!

Best group blog

The growing Digital Leader movement http://www.digitalleadernetwork.co.uk of empowering a group of dedicated children/students to provide help, training and creative solutions for their classmates and teachers has benefitted countless people across the UK. It provides student the opportunity to engage with technology and collaborate to enhance to tech experience for everyone. Follow developments every Thursday at 9pm GMT with #DLchat.

Best class blog

I love http://www.edutronic.net by @Edutronic_Net and the students in his school. It is a wonderful example of how blogging has empowered the students to shape their own learning and explore the world with an audience from around the world.

Best ed tech / resource sharing blog

When I first made my tentative way on to Twitter and began finding my own CPD opportunities online some 2 years ago, one of the first blogs I found, enjoyed and during to read regularly was http://www.whiteboardblog.co.uk by @dannynic. It is a wonderful blog which shares the best resources and ideas on how they can be used in your classroom. Thanks for the inspiration Danny.

Best teacher blog

Mark Anderson’s @ICTEvangelist blog at http://ictevangelist.com is a superb place to find all sorts of teaching ideas, advice, stories from the classroom and support with edtech. He is also an endless source of iPad information and tips. So if you have something beginning with an ‘i’ you should be following him on Twitter and reading his blog.

Best individual tweeter

I really wanted to write something for this category to explain that there are simply too many fab educators out there who tweet the best resources, ideas and advice. So I’ve chosen someone who does all of that and also makes me laugh and is always helpful to everyone. That tweep is @shelibb. She is a authority of using iPads in the Primary setting and has bee a leading light of the Digital Leaders movement, which has helped so many educators and children.

Best Administrator (SLT) blog

http://johntomsett.wordpress.com by @johntomsett is an amazing blog by an inspirational headteacher. Each and every time he blogs he has make me think about how things could be better and that teaching really is the best profession in the world.

Best twitter hashtag

#ukedchat is the online hub for education in the UK. The weekly discussions cover a myriad of educational topics and push forward the understanding of what is possible in the classroom. In my opinion it is the best CPD on the internet. It’s based at http://ukedchat.com.

Best free web tool

The free tools that has made biggest impact in my classroom this year has to be http://www.classdojo.com. The children love it and it has continued to improve and it is now a vital part of my teaching.

Best educational use of audio / video / visual / podcast

I have recently discovered http://www.l4l.co.uk by @eyebeams. I’m amazed at the passion, insight, but most of all the fact that he is able to record a daily podcast/Audioboo on important, useful and relevant educational topics which keep me informed about what is happening out there. It has become compulsive listening.

Best open PD / unconference / webinar series

The TeachMeet movement http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/19975349/FrontPage provides an amazing learning experience for all who take part. The format of micro presentations keep the events interesting and fresh. I learn so much each time I attend a TeachMeet, but more than that, I feel inspired in so many different ways and ready to try lots of new things.

Lifetime achievement

I recently had the great opportunity to work along side Tim Rylands @TimRylands at the London Festival of Education. I knew Tim mainly by reputation, but watching him work was an amazing experience and he has focused my thinking about presenting CPD forever. Tim and his associate Sarah Neild are an impressive team. Tim has inspired so many teachers from around the world and I can not think of anyone who is more deserving of to be recognised for a lifetime of remarkable achievements. See his blog at http://timrylands.com.