Adventure is out there!

I did the colour run today. To be honest it was more of a colour dander. But I did it! It was one of my goals for the summer and I’m so glad I did.
Even though taking part is a little outside of my usual Sunday afternoon routine.

You might say it’s a little bit out of character. Apparently though my character is to be a little bit out of character. To be surprising and random and full of adventure.

My friends Chris and Sharon have known me since I was 18. Over the past thirteen years I’ve made them both laugh by being surprising. In fact Chris said once that he should know better by now to be surprised by things I do. Sharon followed that up by saying that I with me they should expect the unexpected, being surprised should be the norm.

It was just a friendly chat over dinner and peppermint tea in their kitchen but it’s stuck with me.

A few weeks ago I round at their house and had been playing frozen with their girls. I still had my hair in two Anna plaits when Chris came in. I commented that my hair was part of the game and he said “Pamela I didn’t say anything because that could just have easily been your hairstyle for today.” I love that when they see me, nothing is beyond the realms of possibility. I try and remember stories of things I do to tell them, like the time I abseiled down the Europa, or snorkelled with sharks. They themselves are creative, brave, adventurous people and they allow me to be the same.

When I was on holiday in July in Florida my sister kept commenting on how adventurous I was. She was surprised. I think she is used to the sensible older sister head doing dynamic risk assessments and thinking through plans and back up plans.

I like being adventurous. I like trying new things, seeing new places. I have a bucket list that’s never ending, with different aims set every year. Last year it was to meet Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. This year it was to eat lobster, to swim with tropical fish and do the colour run. I also have a list of things I’ve done, like go on safari in Africa, hand-feed giraffes, ride a gondala in Venice and go jet skiing. Its a list that’s growing ever longer too. When I’m an old lady I want people who look at it to say “she had a good life” and be surprised by the experiences that I’ve had.

Adventure is out there!

This is the kind of attitude I want for my pupils. To believe that they can give things a try, no matter how big or scary or out of their league they seem at first. I want them to be limitless in their desire for life, for learning, for experiences. I want them to be confident enough to risk standing out from the crowd or to risk failing. I don’t want them to say “I can’t.” I know they are just P1s and P2s at the minute but I already see it creeping in.

I can’t do that.

That’s too hard for me.

I’m not good enough.

My desire for them is to be adventurous. To be brave and try new things; if they work brilliant, if they don’t-at least they tried. They can try again and again and again. Or try something else. But I don’t want them to give up.

Adventure is out there.

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It’s nice to share

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I saw that quote on the Internet and really liked it.  There is a big tendency amongst teachers to be secretive about their ideas. It’s almost like we are still at school and everyone is vying to be teacher’s pet.  People are vague about where they got ideas for their display boards or that lovely behaviour management poster. It’s like we don’t want to share because then everyone is using our idea and we loose out on the chance to shine, the chance to be the super teacher.

 But that’s a nonsense. 

We teach children to share, we actively and explicitly teach skills such as turn-taking, group work and collaboration. How is it that we can target things for our pupils that we don’t practise in our own professional lives?

If you are in teaching because you want to shine, because you want people to think you are marvellous and wonder at the beauty of your carefully coordinated classroom then you have the wrong focus. The focus is your students, not you. You are part of a team, a team who wants your pupils to succeed and not just for the year that they are in your class but for their whole academic career and into adult life. We need to be team players. 

Part of being a team is that everyone has different strengths.  Some people will be better than you in some areas, you will be more skilled than them in others. It’s about pulling all those different skills together to create a strong team.  

Collaboration is important.  

Your job is much bigger than just you.  
I am very fortunate to have a friend in work in the same key stage as me who is always on hand to talk through ideas and plans with me, just like I’m always happy do the same for her. Now if we find a really good resource we just copy an extra set and leave it in each other’s pigeon hole. It’s no big deal sharing and collaborating with her because it’s become part of my day. 

It’s even nice just to have someone who doesn’t think you’re weird when you have off the wall ideas. Infact most of the time she will join in and help me plan whatever it is. 

My best friend is also one of my best collaborators. She’s a graphic designer and has no background in teaching at all; but she listens to my ideas for work, makes suggestions and offers her own ideas. I do the same for her.  We don’t always go with each other’s ideas, but it’s really useful to see things from another point of view, a point of view that bit removed from the situation and setting.  It allows for more creativity and out of the box thinking.  We now joke that our brains are just extensions of each other’s because we’ve shared so much professional knowledge. 

I also have a Personal Learning Network on Twitter, mostly people that I’ve never met in real life but whose practice inspires my practice and whose ideas and thoughts act as catalysts for my own. Like a pinball machine, my ideas bounce off theirs and become better for it. I can’t recommend Twitter enough as a method for teachers to get new inspiring ideas. Even if someone isn’t in the same sector of education as you, you can still catch their enthusiasm and appreciate their practice.  Being around teachers, trying to be the best they can be, makes me want to be the best I can be. 

This whole approach to collaboration among teachers and my own experience of its benefits made me think. I’d just got an email from a friend looking for advice about podcasting in her foundation stage class, something I hadn’t done before. But I was sure someone I knew somewhere would be an expert in it. We just need to share the knowledge. So I decided to organise a get together for foundation stage teachers who are passionate about using educational technology.  I love chatting with others people who do what I do, sharing ideas and practice and just feeling like part of a little community.  Our initial get together is a swap shop of our favourite FS Edtech ideas for iPad at the end of September.  It’s going to be very informal, just chatting over coffee and chatting about how we use iPads as tools in teaching creative and purposeful lessons. Then we can swap details to build connections and allow for more collaborating. If it works we can all meet up again at the start of next term. So far I have over ten people signed up to come, from eight schools, in four different board areas. 

I’m excited and a little bit nervous. 

I think it’s going to good. 

It’s nice to share. 

Radiator or Drain?

I know a minister who often asks in his sermons are you a radiator or a drain? A positive person who adds, grows, develops and energises those around you? Or a negative, problem finder who seems to sap enthusiasm from people by always finding fault?

I am very much a radiator. One of most used phrases is “that’s so exciting!” I get pretty passionate about things that I am interested in and involved.

This week I presented at TeachMeet for the first time.  It was the final session of #niedcamp, which I’ve spoken about a lot before. my presentation was on the online learning journal Seesaw  and how I have been using it with my class since April.

Before the TeachMeet started I was really nervous, which surprised me.  I hadn’t expected that I would feel so nervous about a 7 minute presentation on something we use everyday.

I talked about when I downloaded Seesaw I thought it would just be an online filing system, something to make my life easier,help with workflow in the classroom and building a portfolio of evidence for my class.  Even at that I was pretty excited about it. I loved the ease of login with QR codes, I loved the intuitive design and format that meant my kiddos would be able to handle it, the voiceover function to narrate their work and the options to have photos or emojis for each child (my class wanted the emojis).  I expected that to be it.

Once I started using it with my class though, I learnt that it would have an effect on their learning as well as my filing! My students became more confident and their self esteem rose, they had work to be proud of! They became more confident and competent speakers by talking about their work in the voiceover feature.  from using language like “we have been learning to” their capabilities in talking about their learning and evaluating their work has been increased.  The have become more independent in terms of taking charge of their own learning by filing it online themselves.

I’m now excited about Seesaw because of how it benefits my pupils AND how it helps me out as a teacher.  This is excitement and enthusiasm is obvious because @ciarnaC from “No Such Thing as Bad Weather.” sent me a tweet after my presentation to say “Your enthusiasm shines through, how lucky are those children in your class!”

I am happy being a radiator.  Someone who gets excited and passionate and engaged in things that will make a difference to them and to others.  I know at times it might make me look silly or naive, but I’m not going to apologise and I’m not going to change. I will continue to see the world as a place that’s worth getting excited about.  Where wonderful things happen everyday, where small triumphs and discoveries warrant big celebrations.

In the words of Roald Dahl;

“I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are invested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed.  Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it.  LUKEWARM IS NO GOOD.”

Count Me In!

Sir Ken Robinson talks about us finding our tribe. “What connects a tribe is the common commitment to the thing they feel born to do.” Finding your tribe is key to finding your element; that place where what you are good at and what you love come together. It’s that spot where you know that you are doing what you are meant to do.

I really believe that my element is working with children – teaching, growing, educating them.

At the minute that is shaped as me being Nurture teacher to a class of six Foundation Stage pupils with SEBD.

Finding your Tribe is finding the people who spur you on. Who enthuse and energise you. Who make you want to be better than you are and help you get there.

Sir Ken says that “Finding your tribe can have a transformative effect on your sense of identity and purpose” because of three dynamics: validation, inspiration and the alchemy of synergy.

On the 12th June I found my tribe.

A bunch of educators who weren’t happy to let the opportunities for CPD over the summer slip away quietly into the night with the cancellation of RTU Summer School.

A group of innovators who said let’s do this ourselves.

A group of energy makers who created such a buzz that 300 teachers, turned up to go to #NIEdCamp yesterday to hear presentations that would further their practice and skillsets to make a difference to the classes they teach.

After the first meeting with this bunch I came home buzzing. I was so excited about the potential for what we were planning, about getting to know these inspirational people and collaborate with them and learn from them. I had caught a spark. The only way I could explain it was that I’d met a bunch of teachers who made me more excited about teaching and made me want to be better at it.

Sir Ken is much more eloquent. That sense where you are listening to someone talking and inside you are saying “YES! Me too!” he calls that validation. You are not alone if you connect with others who share your passion.

The second dynamic he talks about is inspiration. The other teachers that I met inspire me, they give me ideas, they help me see things differently. They may not think that they are doing anything ground-breaking or earth shattering when they talk about their practice, or how they do things but they are innovators. It’s just that for them its become the ordinary.

I feel enthused coming away from a meeting/good email/google hangout with this bunch. We all bounce off each other; ideas spiral and grow and pick up momentum. Its like conduction of the mind – you know in Science at school when you studied heat transfer and in conduction the molecules all bounce off each other and heat is transferred. That’s the synergy of energy. Working together ideas bounce around and energy and enthusiasm are transferred.

Yesterday was #NIEdCamp and it went so well. Everyone felt a little bit of that Tribe connection, being part of a group of passionate educators doing what they were made to do.

One of the hashtags for our One Day to make a Difference was #areyouwithus

Are you with us? I SO AM.

I definitely am. Whatever this bunch are doing next – count me in.

I’m first on the list.

On being a Geek…

I am very much a geek.

I’m usually told this a few times a week:

by my sister who uses it to mean that I’m slightly weird but that she loves me anyway

by my friends who are the recipients of many iPhone/iPad tips and hacks when their phones misbehave or when I mention I have a Google Hangout meeting.

by anyone who hears me talking about something I really interested in (I tend to get a bit excited about apple devices, most sci-fi especially Doctor Who and Harry Potter and also baking. I’m a total baking geek.)

or when I surprise other geeky friends with my knowledge of Doctor Who/Harry Potter/Star Wars (this is my favourite time to be called a geek – there’s always that tone of surprise, “you’re such a geek, I love it!”)

and though its not said by colleagues it’s implied everytime I get sent for to look at a computer/whiteboard/printer/router or have pupils from other classes turn up at my classroom door saying “can you fix this?”

Its got the point where children now stop me in the corridors to ask me questions like how to download the Match of the Day title sequence to add to their GreenScreen-ed iMovie project.

I like being a geek. I like technology, I like seeing it work to make classroom life easier, more engaging, closer to what life will be like for these pupils in the real adult world. I love it when using technology just works beautifully to extend and enhance the learning that is taking place. Until it doesn’t work. That’s a whole other story. I definitely don’t like that.

Last term in school we had an iPad week, supported by iTeach. It was great. The pupils in P3-P7 had lessons in GreenScreen and iMovie. Parents came in and had sessions with their children, the pupils teaching the adults how to use some of our core apps as they collaborated together. The Parents had their own session learning to use some apps, getting e-safety and set up advice and hearing about how we implement iPads in school.

We aren’t a 1:1 school. Each class has 4 iPads, one of which is normally the teacher’s and apple Tv linked into the ActivBoard. Despite not having a wealth of devices we are still able to integrate technology into learning in ways that aren’t forced or contrived and have real impact.

I’m excited about next year already. I want to get the school coding. I’m hoping every pupil, P1-P7, will be able to complete an hour of code and get a certificate for EU Code week. I want to get the KS2 pupils to start with involved in using stop-motion animation and the FS KS1s boosting their communication skills through podcasting. I want to have digital leaders in each classroom to support the teachers and fellow pupils. I have lots of big ideas that I’m really excited about.

I am such a geek. And I’m quite proud of that.

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Back to School

Its almost time. Back to school displays are being stocked and restocked in the supermarkets as parents and students of all ages buy in all their supplies for the new academic year. I hustle past it, not allowing myself to look at new diaries, pens and binders until at least next week. All the time thinking to myself, “Where did the time go?”

In Northern Ireland it didn’t really feel like we had much of a summer. I realised last week that I’ve had my winter duvet on my bed and I’ve needed it for these so called summer months. I’ve had the heating on a good bit too, especially on evenings when its so wet and windy you’re convinced its the start of October. I certainly feel like time has slipped away from me and what stretched out in front of me in June; seven weeks of summer – time to do everything and more, has all but passed with very little to show for it!

Next week is NIEDcamp and I’m really looking forward to it to get my teacher juices flowing again. I’m hoping to meet some new everyday innovative educators who inspire me to better practice, to get some new ideas for my classroom and school as a whole and to be enthused about the upcoming year.

This is my third year in my role as Nurture Teacher. This is the year that I am hopefully going to be putting our school forward for the Boxall Quality Mark Award. I know as well that I will have a visit from the Inspectorate at some stage in the first term. There’s lots of staffing changes happening in school this year too – the most pressing of which is a new principal, as ours is leaving in October. I don’t want to go back into work worrying about all these things. I don’t want my time to be consumed with to-do lists, paperwork and memos.

I want to go back inspired and to inspire others.

I want to go back enthused and to enthuse.

I want to go back excited about the new possibilities that this year holds. Opportunities to grow and learn and stretch for myself, my practice and my pupils.

I want to say on the 23rd August, as I get that Sunday Night Feeling for the first time in seven weeks, “BRING IT ON!”