March 23

The future’s bright, the future’s Cumbrian!

I had the pleasure this week of attending a fantastic conference full of great speakers and big names in Education. Not the first time I‘ve done this of course, but this one was different in that it occurred on my doorstep. My Cumbrian doorstep.

The reality here is that since leaving London I have travelled hundreds of miles to hear the latest thoughts in Education, to be inspired and or discuss the latest policy and find out what impact it will have. Having our own conference such as #northernlights in Carlisle really was a revelation.

Why such a big deal I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple really, here in the North of England we often feel talked at. We feel like the poor cousin of the geographical family; not independent like Scotland, or central like London – and we are sometimes catapulted into the news because we are not quite as successful as we would like to be. We get tired of hearing about negative news stories and often struggle to see beyond our borders because, well, we work so damn hard!

So a huge thank you to all of those speakers who came this week to Carlisle to share positive messages, to allow dialogue where the North of England was put on centre stage and to put context into our challenges and successes. I won’t name all of the speakers here, but they know who they are, and they know the positive vibes and the buzz that was at the University of Cumbria. It was a great mix of local experts – nearby academics – CEO’s of successful academy chains and education experts! It means much to know that we are not alone, that despite any political differences at the end of the day we all want our children to have a world class Education.

I came away buzzing about the success of some of our Cumbrian schools – happy to share my own experiences and looking forward to shaping local thinking in the future. I thought hard about the future for Education in general and glad that, for once, it was Cumbrian colleagues that I was speaking to, Colleagues who I could easily catch up with again, whose schools I could visit and who are in a position to share resources and ideas. Because this is really what it’s all about – I make use of twitter and of Skype, but the chance to talk positively about changes and success on your doorstep really is inspirational. The chance to look at challenges honestly, to talk about retention and recruitment in a way that takes into account our context. To hear policy makers and influencers discuss what is actually important for our area and to help us make the changes needed.

A huge thank you to Michael Merrick who got this ball rolling, and everyone else who took the idea and ran with it. The University of Cumbria was a fantastic host and I know many people gave their time to making it succes. Here’s to being the change!

January 6

My career has been driven by Government Initiatives.

Funny, I had a bit of a revelation today. Tidying out turned up my old CPD folder. One which I kept throughout my career, up to this latest job. ( I have to say I found this very helpful when job hunting and whatnot, but that’s not the point of this post!)

Looking though my folder, organised by ‘theme’ – e.g. photo evidence, letters and articles, reports; I realised that everything I had done in terms of pushing my career forward, or trying something new, had been dictated by the government of the time. Even my Local Authority position, which was partly inspired by a big push into spending on IT, was all about money – and where schools were allowed to spend.

Take my first role – which was PE and School Sports Coordinator. Completely driven by the money that was going into school sports. This meant, of course, that schools had to evidence the spending and the impact (remember the survey and older SSCO colleagues?) – and they needed someone to do this. My folder also contains the ‘evidence’ of my next role – extended school coordinator. Again, using clubs, afterschool clubs, out of hours (I think that was my title!) all as ways to engage the whole school community. I was in London then, and there was a lot of local focus on the family- family kitchen cookery classes, English classes, etc. I’m sure the Head Teacher at the time thought these things were needed, but the fact is I only did it because money was available and school were being rewarded for doing such things. If there hadn’t been money I don’t think the school would have provided these services. Was this a choice of that school then? Would we have scraped together the money?

Reports are also a big part of my CPD folder, as Assessment Lead for a few years, I put a few in my folder and the change over the years is startling. I reported to governors, SLT and our SIP at the time. It started with a look at the whole school trends, three years trends, cohort strengths etc. But then in a few years it moves into groups – and a focus on just a small percentage of children for each cohort — and each year the number of these groups increase, and the detail I go into bcomes more specific, and arguably, more useless. The time taken probably increased too – but I don’t remember!

It doesn’t just follow the money of course, in all this I have attended courses for hockey, cricket FA Coaching (sports, of course! )- but also book corner training, and the seemingly obligatory ‘outstanding teaching courses’ (I attended a few of them.. take that as you will!). There were also the interactive whiteboards training (government put a lot of mone into this of course – see this report for more info) and the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment – which I don’t think we ever used). These type of initiatives can all be linked to government drives though, and it makes me wonder if I, as a new teacher looking for opportunities would have made those career choices if there wasn’t this big push on sports / IT and assesment practises.

This has all made me think, if, as a Headteacher, I can now effectively lead my school in a direction that the school community wants to go in? Even if it is not attached to a government idea, or funding pool? This is why our profession needs an independent body that can advise and protect schools and teachers from the whims of whichever government happens to be in power. Hopefully the Chartered College can do this, but I wonder how many teachers have had their careers shaped by Government whims?

August 22

Digital 5 a Day!

This is a response to a post by Cliff Manning (@cliffmanning) regarding the Children’s Commissioner’s recent Digital 5 A Day campaign.

This campaign, in their own words aims to:

The Digital 5 A Day provides a simple framework that reflects the concerns of parents/ carers as well as children’s behaviours and needs. It can also act as a base for family agreements about internet and digital device use throughout both the holidays and term time.

Based on the NHS’s evidence-based ‘Five steps to better mental wellbeing’, the 5 A Day campaign gives children and parents easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet.

And it makes complete sense – there is a need to give parents, and children, a different dialogue about being online that is not all about esafety and ‘nots’. There are lots of great resources out there for Parents who are worried (I wrote about them here) – but my experience, as a teacher, is that this focus can make pupils fearful about speaking out and, at the same time, Parents don’t ask for help if they need it as they feel they will be labelled. To have a campaign which focuses on the good technology can bring – and then uses that to bring families together can only be a good thing. Articles like this represent how it has been received. However, as is pointed out by by @cliffmanning:

The press headlines inevitably focused on ‘regulating screen time’ and rules — however the intention was to help young people develop a balanced, creative, empowered relationship with digital and devices.

What then, would support the young people develop this relationship?

I’m torn between the #digital5aday being too prescriptive and then not prescriptive enough.  The five elements are useful to guide thinking and will, with some, promote conversation amongst families. Themes that many schools will recognise and in fact teacher’s will talk about technology in such ways.  However, as I outline at the end of this piece, I do think that there other problems with a campaign like this.

Connect

Here parents are prompted to see the value in connecting with people. Parents are reminded to ‘keep a dialogue open’ (nothing new there then!).

With the support of parents children could be prompted to check in with a family member they don’t see very often? To message a friend and make them smile? For older children – can they support an older family member online? Can they look up their favourite author? Or TV personality – write them a short note? Author’s website can be a great source of activities such as writing competitions, or book-linked ideas.

Be Active

This prompt feels like it has been included just to make sure ‘screen time’ isn’t the only focus. But, let’s face it, using the internet as directory enquiries really isn’t that inspiring – these days it is the default. Asking them to research a place or local activity without using the internet would be a bigger challenge!

But – older children can challenge themselves to do something new – and then share it. Join a local group for their chosen activity? Find  a video of an inspirational achievement in their chosen sport? Can they learn something to help them improve their favourite acitivity?

Get Creative

This one is easy – and where children excel online. The danger is in mentioning specific games (which dates your publication immediately) – and you tube tutorials which parents of younger children may not let them access. Writing fan fiction is a great idea – especially as that can link to film and TV – not just games. But also signposting some game creation tools they can use something like Scratch -which would be a great joint venture with parents. Trying the Hour of Code – or asking children to contribute to a  blog post or to a writing competition. Sharing any creations would be ideal – designs using something like TinkerCad for example.

Give to Others

This is a really lovely inclusion which again many schools will recognise. Researching and linking to chosen charities would be nice here -and in the link to activity why not challenge yourself to do something to raise money for charity and set up (with parental help) – your fundraising page complete with charting your success via a blog?

Be Mindful

Another inclusion that feels little connection to the Digital 5 a Day. Good advice, of course, to switch off. Being mindful however is also about taking your time to really ‘be somewhere’ – and to give yourself completely to the activity you are doing. Whatever that may be.

The right campaign? 

I think one of the issues with a campaign like this is that it tries to be too many things at once. I know what they are trying to achieve – but I think we need to pick our audience more carefully. Children / teenagers may find this advice patronising, and many will just be unaware of it completely. It is important to note that children and teenagers who are tech savvy enough to be aware and involved with these activites don’t need ‘digital’ 5 a day – the digital is superfluous and unnecessary. It would be better to just appeal to the ‘5 holiday habits’ or some such. Parents may welcome these kind of prompts – but I suspect that the parents who are aware of this, and reading it, will already be aware of the many uses of the digital world. The digital divide is very real for families and if you want to get to those children who are just left unsupervised with a tablet and TV for hours on end I don’t think this will do it.

A Platform

Finally with a campaign like this why not go the whole hog and develop a kind of ‘challenge’ – digital badges such as the like seen at Makewav.es. Being totally serious about it, they could develop a sharing platform? Using existing social media to put everything in once place for parents to see. Using existing networks already like faceboook for local sports groups would also help young people see what is out there.

October 11

Online Safeguarding – who is responsible?

Another day, another online data leak. Yes we know, we really shouldn’t expect online storage to stay private any more… We are working hard to educate children, parents and the community. However Snapchat’s leak caught my eye because of one of the ‘facts’ that went with it. It said that around half of the users were under 17, sites seem to differ on the precise number but they all seem to agree that around half of the users are under 18. Therefore, for the purpose of child protection, and safeguarding they are children, vulnerable.

Think about that, this company knows that half of it’s users are under 18. It has recently been valued at over $10 million based on it’s potentially lucrative user base. What then does it have to do as part of it’s responsibilty to these children? I know what schools have to do, what youth groups have to do; the training; the form filling in; the checks. I also know what would happen if schools managed to leak data at the rate at which these companies do – and it would not be okay to say ‘but we told them not to use so and so…’.

 

What then do these companies have to do? It seems, nothing – it seems that it’s okay for a company to make a huge amount of money from children, and have no corporate responsibility to those children.

We must do something about this. There must be a way that we can force these companies to take some responsibility for their ‘customers’. A look around the internet and you find several examples of Snapchat in particular being warned about leaks and possible security issues. Facebook had similar issues, thought it is impossible to find out from any of these sites if they have any policy at all to the teenagers and children which use their sites.

Maybe the answer is fines, responsibility for the leaks. Maybe it is statutory guidance and training, and a names safeguarding laision officer. Perhaps they’d find a way to ensure all users were over 18 if legal action accompanies it. Maybe it is impossible without some sort of international guidance, but you cannot deny that these corporations are letting this happen, profitting from it and then walking away from it with no accountability at all. I really think we will look back on this era of child exploitative social media in horror.

 

Further reading:

http://www.zdnet.com/snapchat-names-aliases-and-phone-numbers-obtainable-via-android-api-say-researchers-7000019992/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/16/snapchat-government-data-requests_n_5337473.html

 

 

July 20

Twitter for school – How to get started!

Twitter as a social media network is well and truly established now. Chances are that you also have a personal twitter account. I prefer using twitter to facebook for schools as it just feels that little more ‘secure’ and easy to manage the connections.

Support and help for teachers using twitter is also available – and the great twitter account @battt provides plenty of links; resources and advice for using twitter as a teacher.

As an educational network tool I have found Twitter invaluable. Creating school accounts has allowed us to link with parents, the local community and to engage in national and international events. This has directly impacted on the pupils in schools and has created some real ‘buzz’ moments. See this post about our twitter conversation with astronauts! Our schools have linked with local authors, shared events through a local news hashtag, received support and sponsorship from local businesses (and then been able to thank them) as well as countless other smaller connections with parents.

Where to begin?

Choose a name!

Sounds simple – but you need to make sure your school is identifiable!

Read / adapt / create a policy.
You should already have an e-safety / safeguarding policy – and the schools’ use of social media should be part of this. Referencing Twitter directly will ensure that you:
– are clear about the use of photographs of children / use of names etc.
– name the staff who are responsible for updating the account.
– ensure that the account only ‘follows’ those that the school want to; it is not a personal account.
– ensure there is a ‘professional’ feel to the account and nothing is said that could reflect on the school

For clear guidance, and example policies take a look at the always useful ESafety Adviser site.

 

Spread the word! 

I started by linking the twitter accounts on the website and advertising it on the school newsletter. Staff enthusiasm can also be harnessed – although it’s worth limiting who has access to the account. Reassure staff that if they follow the school account the schoo l account won’t follow them unless they want it to.

Offer Support

If you are serious about enganging the community you will need to support them in the use of the media. Holding a Parents’ guide to twitter session can be really useful – and people tend to find it genuinely useful. It can also be a good time to discuss more general social networking concerns.

Get Tweeting!

Besides general admin type notices you can start by tweeting places where the school visits-  or linking up with events such as World Book Day! Local schools and local businesses can also be great Twitter pals as you can share events and exchange local news. If you have a school facebook account it is possible to link the two.

 

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It then needs to be integrated with the school ‘life’ with Tweets sent on a regualar basis by the same member of staff. Integration with the website should also be set up so the tweets can be read there.

Have you had any great success stories with your school twitter account? I would love to hear them!

Thanks for reading!