by Chloë Hynes, PDNorth Lead
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.
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
A story of two digital “dinosaurs” foray into blogging and other digital unknowns!
A couple of members of the PDNorth team (Sue Lownsbrough & Petrina Lynn) have begun a journal detailing their journey navigating digital literacies from personal to organisational/work to classroom/training use. They cordially invite PDNorth members to follow them on their journey…
To read more, click the link above!
by Gail Lydon, newly appointed PDNorth Regional Lead for Yorkshire & Humberside
My goodness – nothing stays the same for very long, but it all looks so familiar! That’s what it feels like working in post 16 learning. Constant change, but we feel we have seen it in another guise before. There is something comforting about the familiar though and when I was asked to lead on the Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) in Yorkshire and Humber I heard myself saying yes. Why did I do that!?? Well one reason is my previous experience of networks and how much I have learned from them.
I have been teaching since 1996 and some of the most important learning opportunities I have had have been through networking of some kind or another. Working with my colleagues on projects; safely discussing what was happening in my classroom and carrying out peer observations to develop my practice. Although much is familiar (funding and learner motivation to name but two), I think we could argue that the restraints we work under are tighter than ever. But we love teaching and care for our learners so what to do?
My husband is a massive music fan and Jimi Hendrix is a favourite. One quote of his (Jimi’s not my husbands) is “in order to change the world, you have to get your head together first” (if I haven’t got the quote quite right I hope both of them will forgive me). I get my head together by talking to my colleagues and friends. Refreshing and challenging my thinking and it is fun. It doesn’t mean I always get it right but having the opportunity to discuss issues with colleagues is always a powerful learning experience. But so many of us don’t get the opportunity to network. Many of us are now working remotely and can feel isolated. This can also be true even when working inhouse because there just aren’t the structures to support face to face time with colleagues. Staff rooms have often disappeared and lunch times staggered. Networks allow us to interface with colleagues in other organisations too.
I guess you will want to know what the PENs are all about before you sign up? These Networks are about enabling teachers and middle managers to not only share their knowledge and skills but to develop those skills further. PENs are there to support you to investigate some aspect of your practice and perhaps try something new; add something to your toolbox of skills. There is plenty of online support between sessions: Twitter chats, screencasts (just ask) and other CPD opportunities. The four meetings are facilitated by a lead from PDNorth but the focus is driven by the members of the Network. Your membership, your participation is what will drive the Network. What would you like to share? What would you like to investigate further?
I do hope you will get involved with the PENs, come with us and share your expertise, the sector needs you.
by Lou Mycroft (PDNorth Digital Lead & Dancing Princess)
I’m only a year out of teaching in a college and I think it will take a lot longer than that to forget the brief elation then abject exhaustion I used to feel at the end of the academic year. I worked in a specialist college which basically offered community learning, so we ran the year round but there’s still that point at which you can take a breath and head off to the beach, the garden, the airport…wherever.
And before the new academic year starts to loom large, there’s usually a little bit of time for reading. I love a good thriller as much as the next Scandi obsessed person, but I usually have a few ‘work books’ on the go, too, year round. I’m studying in a very roundabout way for an education doctorate and there’s an expectation of this but I’ve come to really love it. I celebrate my ADHD ‘label’ for the energy and creativity it brings to my life, but despite my occasional drift into hyperfocus, I do find it hard to knuckle down to ‘difficult’ reading. The rewards, in terms of my self-belief and professional self-confidence, are immense. I’ve come a long way from the person who used to say to a close colleague, ‘Read this for me and tell me what it says…’!
Here are some guidelines I’ve come to adopt, which might interest you. At the end of the blog is a snapshot of what I’m reading this summer.
Diversify. A few years ago I realised I was only reading books by middle-class white people; most of them men. Of course, there’s a whole argument that ‘the canon’ was established at a time when only white men got published (have a look at Kay Sidebottom’s occasional blog Seeking Lost Women to find out how central Helen Parkhurst was to the work we think of as John Dewey’s). Things are different now, and there are some excitingly diverse writers out there. If you’ve a passion for teaching and you’ve not yet found bell hooks, you’ll love her!
Read two or three books at once, a chapter a day in rotation. Yes it takes ages to finish them all, but what happens is that you draw unexpected connections between them. I got this idea from Peter Shukie, one of the most creative and erudite educators I know. It also means I take time to reflect and process what I’m reading.
Mix up your media. ‘Reading’ doesn’t just mean books or journals. Watch a Ted Talk on YouTube or rest your eyes completely with a podcast. I love the Philosophy Bites series. You can even play them in the car on long journeys if the kids are asleep and you fancy a change from Peppa Pig.
Make notes. Whilst I’ll read a thriller on Kindle, or listen via the Audible app, I love a proper book when it comes to stuff I don’t find so easy to absorb. I use a nice set of coloured pens (really helps me focus) and I’ve learned to be quite sparing with what I highlight. I write notes in the margins too, and I always date when I got the book – and where. It’s lovely to pick it up again and remember being on a beach in Norfolk, or wherever.
Read with others. This doesn’t have to be a formal book club (though it could be). You could start a Twitter thread, or set up a googledoc or Padlet where a few of you could make notes and get into a dialogue. I always see deeper meaning diffracted through others’ perspectives.
Above all, enjoy it. It took me years to get into a reading mindset (apart from those Scandi thrillers) and it’s brought a new dimension to my life and work. I definitely tune more into the world around me and I have loads more new ideas. It makes me feel good about myself, to challenge and refine my thinking. It’s food for the soul.
Have a lovely rest, and I’ll look forward to hearing what you’re reading – please do tag me in on Twitter @PDNorth1720 I’m always up for hearing about great new thrillers too!
What’s in the pile for me this summer: