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Finding flow…

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

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 #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

Twenty years in FE: How Practitioner Research has shaped my professional development.

Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.

I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.

iPad set up and storage (screenshot: click to see video)

I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests? Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems even more relevant today.

I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable. The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering both the CELTA and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the mobile technology.

iPads in a maths class

With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at what we could find out about iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom, because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study out of the classroom.  This led me to apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their students, to explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.

It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.

English apps in class, at home and on the bus (screenshot: click to see video)

In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD. This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any other practitioner research. I am both intrigued and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished, the report may be written but the activity continues.

Playing games helps English (screenshot: click to see video)

Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year.  There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.

Acronym Key

  • CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
  • EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
  • NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
  • ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
  • LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
  • OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
  • PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
  • MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
  • NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
  • SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
  • AP – Advanced Practitioner
  • CPD – Continual Professional Development

Showcasing Digital: Inspiring others to #HaveAGo

by Susanna Brandon, PDNorth Northwest TLA exchange

As part of the PDNorth TLA (Teaching, Learning & Assessment) professional exchange, our Myerscough Director of Quality and procedures Sue Keenan facilitated an afternoon showcase of our latest digital skills projects and teaching tips delivered by members of the Myerscough digital skills team and selected teaching staff with the aim of building further collaborative opportunities to share good practice and really drive the project forward.

At Myerscough, we have a dedicated digital skills team who have been generating some fantastic training opportunities for staff to develop their digital skills and also working on new projects funded by the Education & Training Foundation (ETF) to further embed and use technology, such as Virtual Reality (VR) to bridge skills gaps between training and employment.

Over 20 delegates from colleges and University centres around the North West attended on the day. The afternoon events started with an overview of the Myerscough developed Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Spiral, by Sandy Hunter. Then for the majority of the afternoon the visitors attended five short showcases where they had the opportunity to immerse themselves in some of the VR programmes; including milking at the farm, buying fresh flowers at the wholesaler and also the use of VR to stimulate creativity in creative writing. There was also the opportunity for the attendees to access a range of free Apps that tutors at Myerscough have successfully utilised within their own teaching.

One of my remits as ATP is to liaise with the digital skills team in trialing new technology in my own teaching and then sharing with my team. The digital skills fair allowed the extension of this approach beyond Myerscough and into the wider teaching community.

The close of the session was delivered by Punam, who shared more technology in her briefing in the form of her (Mentimeter) presentation, which linked to the ETF professional standards and also the proposed method of communication (Zoom) to allow all attendees to stay in touch, share experiences and generally support each other in developing outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

Some of the comments taken from the day included;

 ‘It’s been great, I just wanted to stay and play!’ 

‘…feel more confident about encouraging staff.’

‘Great for my own CPD and how I can share my work with others.’

‘Very inspiring.’

As you can see from the comments, the afternoon proved a great success. Hopefully the energy from the room will continue to filter through all of the educational settings and we have lots to discuss when we next meet. Monthly Zoom meetings have been scheduled to keep everyone on track and we look forward to hosting again in July 2020 when the attendees come back to Myerscough to share the impact of their individual projects.


Susanna Brandon is the Advanced Teaching Practitioner (ATP) for Greenspace and Creative studies at Myerscough College.

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#PDNorth2020

The CPD Exchange 2020

Summer 2020 saw the culmination of our 3 (+) years together as a programme funded by the Education + Training Foundation. To celebrate the past and to look to the future we threw a big party! Whilst we originally planned for the ‘do’ to be held in our three regions with a digital link-up between the three, instead we were restricted to taking the party fully online. We took the challenge head-on and you can read all about it from our events lead, Lou Mycroft starting here.

Like any other conference, you’d expect: a sign-in desk, exhibitions, a main room with keynotes, tweeting, workshops and a chance to network and chat. Using Wakelet as our starting point – we crammed all of that in, and more!

Below is the post-event curated Wakelet including extra resources, feedback, tweets and even workshop recordings from the day.

Enjoy!