It has been a fascinating few weeks for me and the last 48 hours sums up how different life can be when you leave teaching (which I am not saying is for everyone but it is the path I am currently on). July last year was when my last permanent teaching role ended and although I have done lots of supply and interim work in the classroom over the last few terms, I am now out of the day-to-day grind of the school environment and I love it!
In August 2018, I became the Chief Education Officer for +24 Marketing in Burnley, whose MD, Dave Walker, took a punt on this rugged RE teacher and tech-geek to pioneer Project Digital in partnership with Burnley College. Essentially, the role is to spearhead the new industry-led digital apprenticeships that are on offer in this area, at both Level 3 and Level 4 and if I am honest, it has been at such a fast pace that it feels like I have been doing it forever! Establishing these courses and the associated curricula, liaising with multiple agencies, safeguarding training, recruitment events, employer visits, developing marketing materials and all this in my curtailed final six-week summer holiday (I know, woe is me!) has been a brilliant learning curve for me.
However, I started this post talking about how the last 48 hours has shown how different life can be and I thought it might be interesting to share what I have been up to in the last couple of days.
So, it's Tuesday 5.45am, and I am driving to Coventry on behalf of EdTech Team and C-Learning to deliver Google training on the first day back for staff and some students at a large 11-18 school. I arrive (just in time considering the behemoth that is the M6!) and deliver 45mins of "How amazing is Google and why you will love it" to 100 eager and yet nervous Year 12 students. I get the privilege of showcasing Google Classroom, voice typing in Google Docs, Grab Image Text in Google Keep, as well as some of the important "Where stuff is" in the GSuite. Next, I am whisked off to the IT Network office to look at some of their issues with SSID and Chromebook deployment to act as a bit of a help for the myriad of staff who drop in "just to ask..." (I must note here that the staff had all been given HP Chromebooks before the summer and were getting used to the new Chrome environment, especially since their on-site storage had all been removed!). There was just time for a quick bite of lunch (literally!) and then we were on to admin staff training with some bespoke "These are my issues, how can we solve them?" problem-solving with support staff. This is always really interesting to do because it keeps you on your toes as a trainer and ensures that you keep up to date with all the tools because you never know what you might get asked! A few more teething issues solved and I say thanks before a shortish drive down to Milton Keynes.
Arriving at the hotel for a quick freshen up and a bit of housekeeping on the Project Digital stuff, I have the great privilege of meeting with a LinkedIn contact in person, Ian Grove-Stephensen, who is the CEO of Chalkface and who runs a very intriguing tool, Yacapaca (I can't help but think of In The Night Garden...this perhaps shows my age or at least the age of my children!). We go out for dinner to a lovely Chinese restaurant where we chew the edtech fat and discuss Ian's solutions to the problems he terms "digital flow". This terminology grips me and presses lots of buttons in my thinking - how do we help schools (and businesses for that matter) have a better digital flow? It reminds me of the book I read by famed psychologist, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, Flow, which discusses finding rhythms and grooves in whatever field you find yourself. Indeed, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that when you find a flow in something, it seems as if time stands still and you are more productive and effective.
Ian is passionate about many things but I take away a lot from this idea of flow and particularly how he is using Yacapaca to find time for teachers and make student learning 'stick'. The conversation flows (no pun intended) seamlessly and it gives me some great information ready for the next day's meeting but not before a well-earned rest.
Wednesday morning and a slightly later (0715) set-off across the country to Peterborough. I arrive at my destination, unprepared for the scale of what Al Kingsley and his team have built and continue to build through their pioneering NetSupport Ltd. I am there to discuss a number of things but most significantly, perhaps, we talk through a research paper I am starting to write about an issue I (and I am led to believe, many other people in this sphere) am facing: how we do convince the gatekeepers in schools (Principals, CEOs, governors) that there are viable, pedagogically sound and evidence-driven solutions in terms of educational technology? I believed there were lots of strands we could go down but primarily this focused on two key areas:
- Terminal, paper examinations
Al and his generous team offer lots of insight and contacts to develop this and I am excited to be involved in developing this research (if you are interested in contributing either from a teaching, business or other background, please complete this short form to register your interest). A few hours and a tour of the place that the magic happens later and I was back on the road - this time on the A1 back to Burnley.
My final calendar slot was the one I was least confident with - a planning session with Caroline Dakin, who had helped us at +24 when I first discussed taking the role to complete a DiSC profile assessment. The insights this assessment gave were astounding - I am an iD profile with a few collaboration priorities, which means I am very heavily a results-driven, enthusiastic (but impatient and somewhat frank!) pioneer who doesn't enjoy the mundane or solitary tasks. Caroline talked through what this meant in terms of my interaction with others at +24 and then how I could ensure I maintain enough self-awareness for us all to succeed. This led nicely into our Business Orbit project where we planned out priorities and goals for the next 3, 6, 9 and 12 months (for a great insight into this activity, check out this example). It was so good just to be able to visualise and then commit to strategic ideas and quite frankly (not like me I hear you say!) get the stuff out of my head into some kind of shape that we can all work with. It was possibly the best two hours I have had in the job.
So, a whistlestop tour of training, strategic meetings, connecting with like-minded innovators and some professional coaching and I am spent.