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My Lockdown Confession: I forgot to compost!

by Chloë Hynes, PDNorth Lead

⬆️ TL;DR*

Last week I took some leave for the first time since Feb. I’m lucky to work for an organisation that works hard to do all it can for the sector with practitioners at the forefront. This means that lockdown was incredibly busy and at some points, quite intense. In addition, we were steamrollering towards the finish line that was the end of a major 3 year-long project (PEN – PDNorth); an emotional one for the team and practitioners alike. When lockdown came we were focussed on our practitioners: what did they need from us? What can we do to help and support them during such an uncertain time? We amended our strategy to help them as best we could. Those who know me: You’d be forgiven for thinking that leading on PDNorth is my main job, but it isn’t! At the same time I’ve been making resources, videos, graphics, writing/co-writing courses, setting up and running an ESOL forum, facilitating others, tutoring, training, newsletters, admin, making videos, twitter, copiloting (a lot) of courses and inputting registers when I could catch a breath.

Stop.

Breathe.

Let’s go back to where I started: I just took a week off. I COULD catch a breath. But why oh why did I find myself still doing ‘worky stuff’ like: 

  • Waxing lyrical about my issues with SAMR, EdTech and Essential Digital Skills with colleagues
  • Agreeing to write an article about these frustrations
  • Researching popular EdTech and gaining badges in Kahoot, FlipGrid and MS.
  • Completing EdTech and EDS modules on the ETF Enhance site.
  • Making a Wakelet to store all these digital badges 
  • Applying to be a Wakelet ambassador.
  • Copiloting a conference

… wait, what was I doing?! Yes that’s it: writing a critical think piece on our obsession with EdTech whilst simultaneously going down the rabbit hole that is an obsession with EdTech 🤦🏻‍♀️. 

Or was I having a week off?

At some point during the week I realised the error of my ways. I sat for a moment and watched my baby snooze in my arms. I reflected: The last two weeks of PDN were all-encompassing for me so I had very little room to deal with all the other ideas floating around, thoughts, misconceptions, grievances even that weren’t directly related to the tasks I was ticking off my to do list. These ‘bits of stuff’ didn’t need discarding or putting to one side, instead I needed time to compost them. To throw them all in a box and let them reformulate in their own time. To make sense of it all away from the external superfluous fluff getting in the way. For that I needed stillness and a peaceful environment. No wonder I wasn’t able to ‘compost’ anything when I was steamrollering through a to do list with one eye on the clock. Similarly I wasn’t able to compost when I felt I had a week to get it all done and just applied the reactionary scatter gun effect that, as you can see, wasn’t particularly useful (other than proving my point a little but that’s for another blog/article/think piece!).

When I was teaching every day I would get (at least) 2 busses to and from work. These journeys allowed me to decompress and reflect on the day. I would mentally get rid of the negativity and draw a line under it. Then I could make a plan going forward. Working from home however, I don’t have this decompression time. And now I have a baby so every minute when I’m not in work is also a whirlwind! 

I realised that for me to be the best I can be for our practitioners, I need to be constantly reflecting; the same way I used to every day when I was at the chalkface. Whilst it’s important I consume the latest direct from the sector’s learning environments, I also need to take the time and initiative to keep on top of recent developments so I can share up to date information (and innovations) with practitioners. I want to engage with theory because I feel like my practical applications and experience are no longer enough but it’s so time-consuming! Being critically aware will not only make me a better teacher – it will improve my own personal professional development. 

But how can I do all of this this? 

Or rather when

I think the answer is simple (and I’ve been a lax about it since returning from maternity leave with a mind inordinately distracted by a very small thing): I need to carve out some time to read, research, and ‘compost’ my ideas and thoughts. Frankly, I need to see the importance of this time and prioritise it. 

To conclude, summarise (and possibly clear up), I am not saying that practitioners should spend their evenings, weekends and time off thinking more about work than we already do. Instead, I am suggesting that reflection time is a significant part of our professional career. It is all too easy to steamroller through a jobs list, but – to extend the original metaphor – that leaves all those good ‘bits of stuff’ on the side to rot rather than taking a moment to pop them in the compost bin to see what comes of it. I for one am going to allow myself more time going forward to relax, compost and reflect. If you have made it to the end of my week-off-ramble, and you have some bits of stuff lying around, I hope you consider taking up composting, too.

*too long didn’t read 

Embrace the Zoom!

By Toby Eveleigh, GCSE Maths Course Manager, Taunton.

@tobyeveleigh

Anyone else starting to love a Zoom meeting?  I’m not talking about those family quizzes which started off as fun but have started to turn a little tedious.  I’m talking about quality educational training that allows you to reflect, is packed full of resources and you just know is going to work perfectly for your classes in September. 

At first, I scrolled past all of those online training emails that were sent out at the beginning of the lock down.  Fortunately, my Regional Specialist Lead (RSL) Paul, emailed me again with sessions that he was leading for Shaping Success, so I signed up.  I’d experienced his face to face training before and knew his stuff was very useful, although I was still a little sceptical of using Zoom.

How wrong I was. No hours of driving to some isolated rugby club, no mass-produced curry for lunch and no race out at the last minute as everyone tries to miss the traffic.  Instead, I’m actually able to drop the children off at school and chat to their teacher (something I never get to do), I can grab a decent coffee from my own espresso maker and then get comfy at home in my lounge clothes.  I feel empowered when adding my own thoughts to the discussion.  I can search online, make notes easily and quickly lookup any old reading on my kindle; all without anyone realising.  That anxiety of sharing in front of my peers is removed, or at least reduced. 

This got me thinking, can I learn anything from this which could apply to my own students?  Maths Anxiety is a huge problem in Further Education.  As teachers, the curse of the specialist often means we forget how our students feel about maths; (Ashcraft, 2002) “For a math anxious student, math creates more than a feeling of dislike or worry; it also affects physiological outcomes such as heart rate, neural activation, and cortisol levels.” Can we remove parts of the learning experience which adds to our students’ maths anxiety? Note taking from the board whilst the teacher is explaining, could a good knowledge organiser be used? Thinking time pressure on whole class explanations, what about an excellent Dr Frost video they can watch, and rewatch, at their own pace? Going over their notes and testing to check retention, what about an Anki app

Should we be embracing online connection?  Our students certainly are, a huge part of their social interaction is on Instagram, Fortnite or FIFA.  Are we preparing them for a future of working from home, international commerce and social media income?  I know I’m not, yet.

Ashcraft, M. (2002). Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences


A follow-up idea from Paul Stych (RSL for the Southwest):

I think more people than ever before are looking at what’s available and there is much to trawl through. So the idea is simple. If practitioners add comments where they have experience (Pros and Cons sections only) we will build up a quick data base of peer comments and help all concerned in finding something useful. If there is something not listed (I am sure there will be) I am happy to be sent info and I will add another column. 

Made with Padlet

The Potential of the Pivot

by Elizabeth Hillier for the NW English PEN

Lockdown has certainly posed its fair share of challenges for English teaching in FE. Post-lockdown and with the prospect of social distancing being a practical concern in a classroom that traditionally relies on the distribution of pens, paper, highlighters, texts as well as the close peer and group collaboration that is needed to create a lively learning environment, September seems as uncertain as ever.

However, maybe this ‘pivot’ maybe the opportunity needed to embed hybrid learning in the English classroom? This prospect is also a scary one especially as there are questions such as: how will it look? how can it be facilitated? how can learning be effective in two different teaching environments? The biggest question is that concerning digital poverty and how we can best serve all of our learners to make sure the curriculum we offer is inclusive, creative and engaging.

Whilst Senior Leadership Teams have the uneviable task of trying to accomodate all of these different scenarios, as an English teacher I have decided that whatever the hybrid model at our college looks like, I want to make sure that my learners enjoy a subject that lends itself well to two different environments. Therefore I have set myself 3 key principles to adhere to:

  • The learning drives the technology and not the other way around
  • Keep the digital aspect of a hybrid curriculum simple and straightforward
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel! Draw ideas from colleagues locally and nationally and look at good practice.

The FTE has also provided “Free webinars to support online learning for practitioners and their learners” which I have found to be incredibly useful. 

Over the past few weeks I have heard the following quote from Vladimir Lenin quite a lot:

“There are decades where nothing happens: and there are weeks when decades happen”.

Lenin

Lots of colleagues have fully adhered to this notion and whilst we all feel tired with ‘digital fatigue’, undoubtedly we will power through. 

This sector has the resilience, collaborative working patterns and determination to make whatever comes our way in September, be successful. 

 

Organising the CPD Exchange – Week #13

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

We’re here – the final event blog for 2020. I settled down with a cuppa to read back through them and read the story of lockdown – or at least one of the stories. I can remember writing the first blog in a state of disbelief, I might even say denial. I’ve actually not left the house since that day except to visit my mum (I’m her carer) and run once a week down on the industrial estate. Now, all the signs were there. Then, we were only starting to imagine cancelling an event, never mind suspending life-as-usual.

The great thing about next Friday is that we have learned so much in the preceding fourteen weeks we’re almost calm! Were these the three physical events we’d planned, we’d be obsessed with stuff: the plastic detritus of free pens and trinkets, endless printing and stuffing folders, plastic tablecloths and bunting. I mean no disrespect if getting a gift bag makes a difference to you, but to me – now, with the perspective I have – it’s just so much publicly-funded landfill.

We hope that the gift you’ll experience on the day is the joy of communicating with others. My work during lockdown has become all about joy – not the brief happiness of a free notebook but the genuine lasting joy of spending time with others. The workshops are all so different from one another that it should be a day of real luxury learning: not ‘have to’ but ‘want to’. And we’ll make sure there is thinking space also.

Myself, Chloe and Vicky Butterby will be working alongside one another again tomorrow afternoon, on the finer details of the day and we’re hoping others of the team will drop in. We’re designing collaboration in wherever we can, also celebration of our three glorious years of PDNorth. And although we are expecting 100 people there’s still time to squeeze yourself in if you want! 

See you on Friday!

Organising the CPD Exchange: Week #11

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

It turns out that our appetite for planning the Big Day is undiminished and as the 26th June approaches, Chloe and I meet on Zoom (or, on one occasion, accidentally in Google Hangouts), to work side-by-side on the detail of the day.

Neither of us have ever worked this way before and it’s very comforting, to hear the click of the other’s keyboard and those domestic noises in the background – cats, babies, washing machines. Chloe comments that it’s something you miss about physically working with other people and although I would always work at home whenever I could, I find myself agreeing. Maybe someone could produce an ‘office working sounds’ AMSR*. Maybe they always have.

This stage is always about getting the details right and it’s lovely to be co-writing into our shared planning doc, occasionally interrupting one another to say, ‘Would this work?’ One of the challenges of going digital is not falling into the trap of exactly replicating what we would do if we were together physically. I’ve come to realise that the thing we need to replicate is the feel – of being welcomed, stimulated, encouraged etc – and we might choose different digital means to meet those ends.

We always like to work with a question for the events – something broad, which helps hang the workshops together. Post-lockdown, the question almost asked itself, but we’ve got an over-arching ask: what does PDNorth mean to you? We’ll be finding different ways of asking this of not only you, delegates, but of everyone peeking in and tweeting from the outside. And speaking of delegates, we’ve got 121 people signed up and growing! 

We’re nearly there. Next week is about checking in again with the presenters, making sure they have all they need and that they are feeling confident enough to look forward to the day. We never want this to be a trauma for anyone and we’ve learned in the past that just a twenty minute coaching intervention can make all the difference when banishing that pesky ‘Impostor Syndrome’.

So, 14 days and counting! If you’ve not signed in and you want to come along, you can find the link here…if you are coming, we look forward to spending the day with you. And we might just squeeze out another little blog between then and now!

*white noise for relaxation. I love rainy day sounds and washing machines. Some people like scratching fingernails – eek!

Organising the CPD Exchange: Week #9

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

In the #JoyFE broadcast this morning we were talking about digital pedagogy and the tensions between resources, risk and relationships. Here at PDNorth we’ve always been digitally-forward, which makes total sense as we are operating across a huge geographical area. We even have an online practitioner research PEN!

We are pouring all our learning from the last eight weeks into plans for the PDNorth CPD Exchange 2020 on June 26th and it’s looking splendid. We were always going to bring the three PDNorth regions together for this event even before circumstances demanded that we do (our original idea was three physical events, connected digitally). Now that necessity has once again become a virtue. 

Since I last wrote we’ve heard the news that Education and Training Foundation (ETF) funding for the Professional Exchange Networks is not going to be continuing. But don’t worry PDNorth will still be going strong! Obviously things will change in the short term, as the funded elements will cease, but we have every faith in the networks we’ve created together continuing to support and inspire one another. We are going to be making so much use of all we are learning about being online!

Obviously as a team we’re feeling it because, frankly, we’ve loved working together, especially on the events. All our meetings have been virtual, so the events have been our chance to come physically together too. But be very clear about this. The funding for PDNorth isn’t ending because it hasn’t worked, it’s ending because it has – and because it’s time, in this newly digital world, to move into another phase of engagement: one which is genuinely grassroots led. Our event is the first step on this path, bringing together practitioners who would in ‘olden times’ have been separated by geography, real or invisible. 

So our watchword is once again ‘community’, also connection. Building the relational capacity of the sector, so that practitioners can seek one another out, maybe work together in different constellations on projects and ideas that make sense to both. The work will continue but think about this – looking at recent tenders from our funders, the Education and Training Foundation it’s clear that the vision has changed. There’s a move towards the sector organising itself and this is one we wholeheartedly welcome and in fact, our support for practitioner-led CPD over the past three years has helped create the grassroots infrastructure that makes this possible.

So it’s not exactly back to the drawing board, as we have always been people-first, but we are now planning #PDNorth2020 with leaving a legacy of connections in mind. And having a proper good PDNorth celebration too. 

The Colour of Courage

By Annie Pendrey. Member of PDNorth’s online practitioner action research exchange.

Courage – This has been a word I have examined over the past few weeks and continue to explore on both a personal and professional level in the face of adversity. I have reflected upon how the world of education will look once we all return to some kind of ‘normality’, when we return to a routine (remember that?) and return to the ordinary things that in the past we have possibly taken for granted.

I am not afraid to say that the past few weeks have been dark and it is in those moments I have tried to find ‘colour’  in my personal and professional life and at times I have struggled not to desaturate colour from my own life, my family and my colleagues and friends. Moreover, in the moments of the darkness, I began to wonder if courage was a colour what colour would it be?  This led me to examine closely the flurry of rainbows popping up in peoples windows and in turn inspired me to utilise my previous floristry skills and adore the front of my house with ribbons in the ‘Roy G Biv’ style. It was during this creative moment that I recalled a book introduced to me by Lou Mycroft, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and a word I have taken from it. The word is ‘chromophobia’, this is best described as the aversion to colours. For those of you who know me well will know  I have no aversion to colour and I possess an inner Magpie which loves glitter and sparkle but more than ever I needed to discover how my inner courage was related to colour in my life and my work.

So, this has led me to question how can we as educators not be fearful of colour, how can we inject colour back into our working lives or possibly our personal lives and into the lives of our learners? How can we move forward and not be fearful of making a different colourful choice in our approaches to teaching and learning? Relating these questions back to my house of rainbows which sits in a small row, the only house which is not brown brick with white windows but has ribbons flying in the wind, bows attached to topiaries glistening in the April sunshine, it demonstrates I am not chromophobic and I continue to display the courage through colour, more so now that I feel I have ever done in my life.

For some of us educators and learners, colour may be missing from your lives right now and so making connections with one another is more powerful now than ever in order to not separate colours or your feelings, to support each other with our emotions or the moods we feel each day. In conclusion, how can we use colour and courage to reflect light and hope, to reenergise ourselves, our education system and our learners? May be the answers are somewhere over the Rainbow?

Dedicated to my Brother #Covid19

Organising the CPD Exchange: Week #7

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about all the events we have in FE – more than we ever used to, or I lived under a rock at Northern College (possible). Since Twitter, they have become a lot more transparent. I love following the hashtag when I can’t physically attend and I get frustrated now if an event doesn’t have a hashtag! Breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of closed events allows for diversity and in particular the voices of those who can’t afford/can’t get free of work/are not empowered to be there.

So as we begin to close on the workshop presentations for #PDNorth2020 I’ve been thinking about two things:

  1. How do we open the workshops up even more effectively to amplify voices in our sector who go unheard? More than ever, with uncertainty ahead, behind and under our feet, it feels important to let new thinking in.

And, given the steep learning curve of the past weeks,

  1. How can we support workshop presenters to create inter-active workshops in a digital space? 

I’ve been dropping into various events and I’ve seen some great practice (and some terrible practice too). I don’t think it’s just me who is finding that screen time is exacerbating my short attention span. Like other ADHDers, when I find flow and focus I can be in it for hours, but there’s something about Zoom which makes that harder to hold onto. When there’s something for me to contribute – a mentimeter, perhaps, or responding to a question in chat, I can pull myself back into the conversation. It needn’t be anything fancy. This is about relationship building, to hear new thinking and ideas. 

I’ll report back progress in a fortnight and I’ll tweet those questions out too. I’d love to know what you think.

Book here for the CPD exchange: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pd-north-virtual-cpd-exchange-tickets-101550022852