Innovation is not what you think it is…

via GIPHY (Yes, this is a gif of me)

Innovation means so many things to so many people that it means nothing in most contexts. This week, I heard my least favourite use of the word, in relation to EdTech. I thought I’d explain why, and offer a more useful definition of Innovation.

I enjoy the EdTech Podcast, created by Sophie Bailey – as it is a useful insight into the breadth of the sector. As it is the 1st Birthday of the podcast, I thought I’d catch up on those that I have missed.

As part of episode 64, Steve Connolly, Group Digital Director at Hodder,  used the term Innovation a lot. At one point, he said:

‘We are traditional publishers in that we publish traditional books, but…we’ve been innovating for ten 15 years.’

While Steve said a lot that made sense and is clearly doing a great job for Hodder, he used innovation to mean the way that publishers have adapted to digital technology and found new opportunities in the market.

IMHO – This is NOT innovation. You cannot innovate for 15 years!  What Steve means is evolution. He means gradual change. It is what all good businesses and organisations should be doing all the time – constantly improving and serving the audiences they work with where they need it.

Innovation is substantial positive change.  I’ve come to this definition having been challenged to explain what I mean by innovation again and again, in a range of contexts. This one works to distinguish innovation from all the other behaviours and characteristics of an organisation (or person).

Traditional publishers can  be innovative, but it is (by definition) not the way they work and (having worked in and for quite a few of them) the publishing process mitigates against innovation at almost every step.

I agree with Andrea Carr, Founder of Rising Stars, who (in the same podcast), who argued that we need to see more traditional/established publishers working with (not just assimilating) start-ups and other innovative sources – to improve the fertility of the edtech sector.

 

My thanks to Sophie Bailey for the ever stimulating EdTech Podcast – and congratulations on the anniversary!

 

Some hard truths about freelancing

Who Knows What Lurks...

 I have had about five years of very succesfully freelance. There was as much work as I wanted, people knew what I could offer and good connections bred better networking. Since stepping out to take on a very different project a few years back, I have struggled to get back to this flow. I now find myself in a less perfect situation, with work being far more of a struggle. For a broader view on freelance life, see Doug Belshaw’s reflections.  Following my post reflecting on why I became a freelancer, someone asked me what the downsides were. So, warts and all –  here they are: full of bitterness, but maybe a few truths that might help someone else

Insecurity sucks

I used to be better at this (maybe this is a function of age?) believing that work will come and holding my nerve. Freelance is all about feasts and famines. When it is good, it is great! But when it is quiet, it will scour your confidence and push you back to the job searching process. You need a minimum of 6 months work ahead that will balance out the tough times.  Have faith but don’t be afraid to step back into a regular job if freelance isn’t working (yet).

It’s lonely

Some people like working more independently – but, without more people to bounce off, get bored with, and have to compromise for, freelance life can be quite isolating. Yes, there are social networks and team messaging services for interaction (and of course friends and family) – but that is not the same as having colleagues who share the same purpose as you.

Domestic Discipline

Can you get the washing up done, pack the kids to school, put the washing out, make dinner and still get a full day of work done? Try it. Getting a cleaner/nanny adds costs to your business… but many people find it essential. Having a study or space to work in will keep you away from distractions – but it won’t be easy to do your share of the housework. Don’t expect others to cover for you.

The Mask

The need to be constantly in a business development mindset means that it can be all too easy to drink from your own Kool-Aid. It’s not all bullshit, but self-promotion is a draining and, too often, unsatisfying activity.

If you have a full time job, you only really need to convince someone to employ you once. As a freelancer, you are always on probation, and your ‘game face’ is always on.  Can you sell yourself in less than 10 words and look like you are worth it? Then rinse and repeat?

Valued added rates

How much are you worth? Can you explain your rates, negotiate and make sure you get paid on time? Did you not get the gig because your rates were too high? Are there plenty of well established consultants mining the same field, charging more?  Do people know you are worth the money – and will they share that story? If you are too neurotic, these questions will weigh you down. Overconfidence will sink you.

The money

Very few clients understand the business model of freelancers, and often baulk at what they see as high daily rates. It is hard to keep explaining that we pay our own NI, income tax through Self Assessment, travel, pensions, etc. It is even harder to get them to realise that, like a snake, a freelancer might only get one ‘meal’ every few weeks – so each one has to last.

The Network

As a freelancer, you are dependent on the people you know and who know you. Be honest, generous and open – but don’t do it because you expect this to come back you you. Chances are that it will – but there is never a guarantee. Do it because it is right, not because you think a RT will lead to a contract! Remember that reputations are easily lost if details are taken out of context. Be careful and be kind.
If you still want to make a go of freelance life, I wish you luck. There are thousands of resources and blog posts to encourage you. My cynical view is not intended to put you off. I wrote this to reflect on my own situation and to answer the question of someone hovering at the brink of quitting a good job to go freelance. I felt it was the right thing to do to be honest.

Four reasons to be a freelancer

2017/365/18 The Key To Being Defiant

After so long time outside of permanent employment, I’ve begun to wonder if there is a job that will a) have me, and b) that I would give up freelancing for. To help me think this through, I have begun to wonder how I ended up as a freelancer.

This was prompted by Doug Belshaw’s excellent post on his two years of consulting – and it is working well for him and for many others. However, (possibly because I have been doing it for so long) the relative instability of income, the constant business development (ie self promotion), and the relative isolation make it a curious choice for an increasingly risk-averse extrovert like me. So, what’s made it work for me so far?

I love learning.

In my twenties, I believed the lie that if you got formal qualifications: developed a love of learning; that this would be valued in the workplace. While my eclectic and enquiry-based learning has been rich and meaningful for me, I can number on one hand the times when my employer valued my learning behaviours.

However, as a freelancer, my ability to bring analogies from other fields (history and science, especially) is often highly valued by my clients. These are useful filters to explore challenging problems and to find approaches towards solutions.

Being a freelancer means I have the space to remain curious and open to new learning – and for that to be valued. If only I could find somewhere to work where I could keep learning.

I’m a ‘Jack of All Trades’…

…where most jobs descriptions seek a master of one. I find my mind works best making connections rather than in digging deep. Though I’d admit to being an edtech geek, I do not feel comfortable with the mantle of the expert, and will happily point to someone who really does know about a topic rather than pretend.  However, in a world where the self-publicist generally wins, admitting when you don’t know something or passing the torch to someone else is all too often seen as weakness.

All too often, I’ve sat in with a project team where a developer is asked about some new tech when he (all too often it is a ‘he’) only really feels comfortable talking about the one he is an expert in. Or watched a marketing person avoid using social media channels because they know the process of generating print materials inside out. These experts end up trapped by their domains and the organisations they work for miss out on their potential for interdisciplinary working.

While I do know a lot about the education sector, I have been responsible for activities in a number of different roles across this diverse area – including educator, producer, marketeer, salesperson – and from Early Years into HE. This means that I am well placed to help coordinate teams and to help find ways for evolving the work they do.

However, I often find that this perspective means that managers think I am only interested in “strategy” work – as that is how most organisations place this interdisciplinary view – but, this is a mistake.

For one thing, very little time / resource at work has strategic value but almost all of it impacts across teams and domains. Every team needs someone (not just a project manager) who can see outside of their field of expertise.

More often than not, the timeliness of the work I do as a freelancer is that I can often spot jams and build bridges quickly and sensitively because I know (a little) about each trade and respect the work they do.

I work as hard as is healthy

This has not always been a positive for my career, I am afraid to admit. In our high-stakes culture, I have struggled to compete with those who will put in more hours than me. I do not enjoy working harder than others and tend to avoid stress. I will actively seek an easier way to do a job, before pulling my neck in and knuckling down. I will question a deadline, challenge scope and find the priorities before overcommitting myself.

I can work hard – but, in all honesty, I’ve got soft, nimble hands, with few callouses. I’m not work shy- as nearly two years working in restaurant kitchens proves. I have seen that working hard doesn’t always equal more value or return. If a job cannot be done within the hours budgeted for it – then, often, it is the fault of the resource manager – not the resource.

Most hard working people I know seem to chose to work too much with little extra impact, for too little respect or return, and for too long. I do not want to do that, and have come to resent managers who, because this is what they did, expect this from their team members.

I care about my mental and physical health. I am not a ‘stress bunny’. I don’t want to work in the evenings and weekends. I like being with my family. I think most people are the same.

As a freelance resource,  as I am paid by the hour or day, clients have huge respect for my time. I like this. If more jobs respected people in this way, there would be many more happy employees.

I do not suffer fools and/or bullies, gladly

I’ve been lucky to have had more good managers than bad – but I have walked out of a few jobs where the office politics has been overwhelming. My patience levels for poor practice, discrimination and petty personal differences are way too low for most organisations. I like doing a job well and, while I have a very healthy ego, do not lose track of the ‘end user’ – whether that is the children in a class, the customers of a business or the community using a service. They are always more important and more interesting, and I’d rather focus on them.

I assume that, sometime, cooperation can be balanced by a little healthy conflict, to resolve a difference of opinion. If I’ve cocked up or got something wrong, I expect someone to call me on it – as long as it’s ‘Kind, Specific and Helpful.

The answers “well, that’s how we have always done this” – “because I said so” – “those guys are always blocking me” reveal one of the great fault lines in the modern workplace – where we often talk a great game of cooperation, but tend to structure the workplace in hierarchical silos.


Being a freelancer keeps me well out of these unhealthy dynamics and mean that (mostly) I can chose who I work for. If someone is being an arse, I can walk away. I can also stand up against bad managers, speak truth to power, and draw attention to discrimination when I see it.

I have not given up

If the right job came along, I’d jump at it. I am sure there are workplaces that allow space for learning, value the connections between teams, respect the work/life balance and the people who work there.

There might even be some places where they need someone who can create and manage learning experiences,…someone like me! Perhaps you could point them my way.

Maybe I’ll end up creating a great place to work again. Maybe, you are looking for a co-founder or setting up a cooperative. If you are, I’d love to know more.

Until then, I’ll keep on, keeping on.

Scarcity of Use

How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. Seems obvious right? But what if being hungry means that you literally cannot decide where to start; and that you stay hungry, despite the calorific (but inhumane) feast before you.

When we are lacking a fundamental need, our cognitive pathways shift – bandwidth narrows. If you need cash, it’s hard to think about anything else other than getting some quickly- to the exclusion of budgeting, avoiding high risk situations, or seeking more secure income. It helps to explain why the financially poor make bad decisions about money  – even if they were once prudent when wealthier.

(Click on the arrows to start this animation)

The principles of the science around Scarcity, described by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir,  have informed lots of areas in social research – from understanding hunger, to the time-poor, and loneliness. Short term wins dominate, even when they harm long term outcomes. There is no evidence that ‘educating’ people out of the scarcity trap works, so just telling people what they should do doesn’t work either.

This research does skim close to stating the obvious, but it does help shift the way we think about our problems, and the problems of others. The Hidden Brain podcast, Tunnel Vision – provided below – provides an excellent summary of this work.

I’ve been experiencing a few different types of scarcity for a while and I think it’s changed my behaviour in ways that follow this model.  For one reason or another, I have been underemployed for over four years. Like so many freelancers: I go through periods of feast, but more often famines, in work.  I’d like to think I also do useful things at home too, but a lack of regular income is only part of the problem.

I have a scarcity of usefulness.

I am at home too much, without a structured day, regular interactions or set of jobs to be done. When I have work, it is unpredictable and often inconvenient – throwing up barriers more than creating opportunities.  This situation has stopped being excitingly ‘on the edge’. I am on the wrong side of a happy balance. The ache is tangible. It fills my thoughts constantly. I’ve been living with depression in my head for a few years now, and while I am not suffering as much, there are days when I am overwhelmed by the perception of a lack of purpose.

I have been effective, productive and kind to myself in the past. I know the productivity advice. Often, I am asked to give it to others – and I seem to be able to apply these lessons beyond myself. I know there are thousands of simple small steps that could make me more productive and, perhaps secure more ways to be ‘useful’. I get advice, ideas and support from friends and family that I know is sound.

Yet,…I feel like my hands are tied and my foot carefully positioned so that instead of stepping forward and upwards – I only end up kicking myself and falling on my face. I grab at (often unsustainable) work or networking opportunities in a less and less effective way. I can feel myself doing it and there is a quiet part of my brain trying to stop me.

Is it the depression? Is it a failing in me? A lack of capability? I’m not sure it’s not these things, but I also know now that the very dynamic I am in makes it harder to get myself out – however amazing I might be. This might be familiar to us as the simple truism that “It is easier to get a job while you are in a job”.

There are some great suggestions from Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir about how to work against this trap – but they do not pretend there are easy answers. Ultimately, the poor cannot think themselves out of poverty – they need more money. The hungry need more food. The lonely need friendship. And the underemployed need purposeful work.

(Click on the arrows to start this animation)

So, if you have read all this and need something doing  – put my capabilities to work. Just use the subject heading “Breaking the Scarcity Trap” and claim your time.

Your generosity can set me free.

Why? We need to Get Real

Panel at #LGRYA17

 

Why do we educate our children in the way we do? Our current public debate seems stuck on  raising standards, improving parental choice, and beating international league tables; rather than considering this deeper question. Yes, kids need to be prepared to work – but we also need to nurture their identity and feed their creativity.

Yet, most children in the UK are being deprived full access to a cultural education.  There are 2500 museums in the UK, and 10x as many schools. This does not mean that there are 10 schools working with each museum, or that all children, wherever they live in the UK, get access to a museum for 1/10th of their education.  If you start to include the numbers of theatres, galleries, heritage sites, libraries and other cultural spaces that could be part of the education (both formal and informal) of a school aged child, it is hard to look at the numbers of opportunities kids get, as being acceptable.  Yet we know that middle class urban kids receive more cultural capital than rural, working class kids and this gives them an advantage.

It is easy to look at “digital” as a solution to these problems of access. Considerable amounts of public money have been spent by cultural organisations on digital projects to improve this situation. However, there has been very little sharing of what works, or progress in working more collaboratively with schools and children.  To look more carefully at this issue and bring people together to share ideas, Let’s Get Real is a research project and conference  organised by Culture24, who work connecting the arts and cultural sector.

There have already been wonderful posts summarising the wonderful speakers, workshops and discussions from the day – such as this from Arts Council England’s  Adam Koszary . As one of the speakers, and workshop facilitators, it might be a little unrepresentative for me to share too much of my view of the day.

My own talk was slightly impacted by the cold remedies I was taking  and I talked way too fast!

So, with all my speakers notes included – here is it for those who would like to take a bit more time to digest the ideas I shared.

Throughout the day,  I was blown away by some of the wonderful work being done that we heard from our inspiring speakers, such as the Holocaust Centre’s virtual testimonies, and the practical interventions of Amy Cotterill in Essex.

The Let’s Get Real action research projects themselves were also deeply impressive in how well they had connected with the needs and questions from kids. However, in all the conversations I had with people in the breaks, I heard another narrative.

Breakout at #LGRYA17

I heard it first from Finbarr Whooley, the Director of Content at the Museum of London, who had introduced the day for us.  Finbarr came to talk to me after my presentation about one slide in particular – where I shared my experience of conducting the 5xWhys activity with an arts organisation – for them to admit that the reason they were working with schools was to raise the profile of their work, rather than to help children learn or teachers to support that learning.

They started with what they wanted to do with young people, and worked backwards to find a rationale. Finbarr confessed that he’d seen this reverse thinking all too often and that it almost defined the way that the cultural sector worked with digital. I spent the rest of the day listening for this story, and it was not hard to find.

Cultural, arts and heritage organisations are struggling to make good use of digital with young audiences – yet seem to have no vehicle for improvement – no way to change the narrative.

I think some of this can be explained by institutional inertia, incentives for gaming the funding process, and ignorance. However, there are things that we can do.

1 – Create a sustained platform/space for sharing and collaboration with educators and young people. Both #LGRYA17 and #TMCulture24 were proof that more is needed.

2 – Maintain a focus on a genuine purpose for authentic learning. Publishing the aims of a project and evidence of working with learners to iterate a better experience would help to encourage others to keep their ‘Why?’ more meaningful.

3 – Develop more meaningful metrics than trying to link event impact to exam results, or prove engagement via hits on a webpage.

4 – Tell the stories, especially when they fail. Cultural professionals should be able to reflect on their practice, and admit where they made a mistake and show they are learning. There needs to be a more compelling framework for doing this and an incentive to counter the

I loved being part of #LGRYA17 and hope to maintain my involvement with the organisations I spoke to. Thanks to Anra Kennedy for inviting me to help curate the day and to the whole Culture24 team for their support on the day.

I help organisations create and support  more engaging learning through the use of digital technology.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help your organisation, to build on the learning from #LGRYA17, please get in touch eylan AT ezekiels DOT co DOT uk.

 

#TMCulture24

 

There is a simple joy in creating a TeachMeet – that of bringing people together in a space for sharing ideas and stories. This week, #TMCulture24 brought teachers and cultural professionals together to form new relationships and new ideas. More than that, it demonstrated an opportunity.

It all started with a first. I don’t think a Major-General had ever attended a TeachMeet before. I am proud to say that TMCulture24 changed all that. Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter kicked off the evening, representing one of the main sponsors, Waterloo200 – Age of Revolutions. A fascinating man, who set the scene perfectly – reminding us that we can learn much from the past and from the best of what culture has to offer – and that children and young people deserve to access all the complex strands of culture.

Sir Evelyn opens proceedings – while I tweet in the distance!

Though evidently slightly bemused about what was to follow, Sir Evelyn was the very model of a modern  Major-General, and remained open minded, generous and took part in the presentations throughout the evening.

The fun began with with a take on Ready Steady CookReady Steady Teach! Two lucky people were given three ingredients for creating / remixing a digitally flavoured lesson. Digital artefacts from across the cultural sector were randomly selected and combined with one digital tool.

Dawn Hallybone volunteered (!) to go first, and was able to cook up a D&T/history/science project looking at the design of military uniforms through the ages.

Oliver Quinlan, given the story of the preservation of an 8m squid specimen, found a meaningful connection to making music using GarageBand – which was not a huge surprise given his musical background… though the ingredients were chosen by random!

These very quickly created ideas were proof of the skill of teachers in connecting ideas and information worth sharing with kids, in an engaging way.  It also demonstrated that there were ways for cultural professionals to generate new ideas for educational resources, quickly and with teachers.

We were then hit by a series of quick, 5 minute presentations, interspersed by breaks for libations and connection making. Where possible, links to the presentations are given as links, below.

First up was Oliver (again) who spoke about the power of Raspberry Jam community sessions to unlock digital making with kids. Presentation

Bill Lord, whose impassioned plea for connections into the cultural wastelands of rural Lincolnshire was both funny and important. If you want to connect your collections and cultural work with kids who really need you, please contact Bill. Presentation

Bill Lord on form at #TMCulture24 Photo from @CrawleyMuseum

 

Next up was Kay Topping, who shared the #Museum4aDay project – directly grown from the #Teacher5aDay project – to encourage teachers/cultural professionals to stay healthy – and #connect #notice #learn #exercise #volunteer.

 

After two (slightly more promotional) talks from Pobble and the Shakespeare Schools Festival, we make it back from the break ready for the last few talks before we had to wrap up.

 

 

Pran Patel gave us a rousing talk about outward facing leadership, innies and outies, and collapsed arches!

 

Finally – we heard from Carol Allen, about ‘figure ground perception’ and the implications for accessible digital resources.

Photo from @MadeByMikeJones

Unfortunately, we had to leave before we could hear the presentations from Julie Neville and Victoria Grace–  (Sorry!) – but both were kind enough to share them here.

I was knackered by the end of the night, after an early start and busy day at #LGRYA17, and nursing a cold. However, I was elated by the evening, not least as it proved the need for more events like these.

This TeachMeet was a result of a conversation with Anra best ideas come through collaboration where purpose and values were clear. While #TMCulture24 was not the first Culture focussed TeachMeet, I know the team at Culture24 and I will not give up until we have found a way to build on the conversations started this week.

 

My thanks to Anra Kennedy and the team from Culture24, The Museum of London, Pobble, Google, and (of course) Waterloo200.

 

 

Pimp your PGCE

The one year PGCE is one hell of a test of the human spirit. Amongst the few days out of school placements, there are brief deluges of information at Uni;  drenching trainee teachers with professional wisdom. Somehow, they are expected to manage this, and accommodate all this information into their practice. Somewhere in this heady rush towards the classroom, students are expected to find ways to bring digital technology into teaching – and I helped a few do that at Oxford Brookes University.

My contribution to the learning for these intrepid PGCE students was a workshop entitled “Pimp your Planning” – as part of their PGCE Tech Day. Given that they only get 16 hours of input on the digital aspect of their professional practice, I knew that any time I had had to be used well. I created a session to encourage these students to find ways to introduce, not only digital tools, but digital literacies, into their classrooms. It was a redraft of an experiment from a year ago – so  huge thanks to the fabulous Clare Fenwick for inviting me back: after my session last year got such great feedback (or at least that’s what she told me!).

A determinedly practical session, my hope was to use a very artificial task – to find a way to use 3 digital tools in the planning for this term – to encourage students to try something new, something digital:  

To take risks. To work and fail in the open. To share their experiences. To reach beyond the easy sometimes. To show the kids that digital technology offers a set of capacities that deepen learning across the curriculum skills.

While there were some fantastic ideas – I was particularly impressed with the group given Scratch, Videoconferencing and Twitter; who had to incorporate these tools into a topic on dinosaurs for Year 4.

Though none of the five people in the group had used this tech in school (though most had used Skype for family and friends) – they quickly reimagined the plan,  innovating a Twitter account for Mary Anning, to reimagine how this 19th Century Paleontologist might have shared her momentous fossil discoveries. Instead of hot-seating, with the teacher as Mary Anning, they conceived the idea of calling her (or a friend of the teacher for more authenticity to the interaction).  Perhaps obvious to some, these were new to them. And they were very excited!

Most impressively, they raised the issues of confusing the kids with ‘magical thinking’ – in terms of time-travel/anachronistic use of tech/impersonating a real historical person. We discussed how to handle this – and the issues for digital literacies (such as IP, and digital identities).

Though other groups were also awesome, and conversations deeper than I think the participants expected to be having, there were some challenges for me:

One of the students questioned if I was seriously encouraging her to be seen to ‘fail’ in front of the kids. Was this ok?

I did stumble to answer this without ranting. (OK, I failed to avoid ranting!). Although (I think) I enthusiastically urged her to positively rethink how important it is to model taking risks and the demonstrate value of a first attempt in learning to kids – I now realise that she really trying to say something much harder. I think she was trying to say that she didn’t feel comfortable failing.

This really worried me. I looked around the room – and realised that she was not alone – lots of people were nodding in agreement.

Now, I realise that I probably unsettled them a little (I do that when I am excited!). However, these were people on a highly stressful course for one of the most pressured jobs in the public sector (others are available!). A career under constant scrutiny – and where getting something wrong can mean a damaging Ofsted classification that hurts the lives of staff and students in a community.

And yet, here I was, asking them to be more risky – to fail (in a safe and appropriate way – where learning is enhanced by reflecting and improving on the failure) and be proud of it. Was I mad?

Now I am quite sure that one of the most important lessons digital technology has to teach us –  children and educators alike – is that (for now) there is a gulf between humans and our tech that means we will always be just about to lose any grip we might have on it.

For example – you might become an expert in using a Microsoft Office product – and then they update the software and change where all the icons are and how the menus operate. Sounds familiar right? My guess is you complain for a while, but soon go and find the learning you need to get working again. Right?

The most important gift that edtech folk have is not their skillset. It is their mindset. If you bring digital technology into your teaching, you will inevitably model important capacities to the children you work with: a familiarity with failing; the joy of the challenges that come with change; an open door and an open mind – able to ask for and give help in learning; and (crucially) resilience in the face of adversity.

Many people believe that we should teach coding in schools because it is a language / subject worthy of time in the curriculum for relevance to future careers. I do not agree.

I believe computing belongs in the curriculum because it forces teachers (and trainee teachers) to look beyond the hard but familiar walls of curriculum, and fixed pedagogical paradigms – and experience learning as their children do.

It ain’t easy – but nothing worthwhile is. That’s what we tell children, so why shouldn’t it be true for us.

My thanks to all the students who shared their time and trusted me with their time today.

 

Larkrise 365

Our governing body has started using Office 365 improve collaboration and improve the way we work with school staff. Although we are right at the beginning of our journey,  we have started to find paths through the forest of our school communications, and the light is beginning to get through. Here is our story so far.

Photo by Alex Chen – CC by-nc-nd

Larkrise Primary School is a smallish, maintained school in a diverse part of Oxford. There is more about our school on our website (awaiting a major refresh!). The governing body has a huge range of technical competence in the use of digital tools, though, crucially, we also have a willing and very able clerk!

None of us are/were 365 experts, and only one person uses it regularly for work. We have no extra support, no funds for training, and we could not find many stories of governing bodies doing this before!

Why do it?

The main driver for the Larkrise governors moving to Microsoft’s Office 365, for the work and administration of the governing body, was to draw together the work we were doing with staff (SLT) onto a common platform.

The SLT and office staff all use MS Office on their desktops, and an initial foray into using Google Drive for governor work last year had meant that staff were having to shift between platforms to work with the governing body. Quite a few of the governors (including me) are Google fans, but this enthusiasm did not translate to everyone. Something had to give.

It was a simple matter of making a choice of forcing the school to move towards Google Apps for Education and changing the whole school technology profile  – or adapting and enhancing the way they used the powerful technology they already had.

Oh, and 365 is free and already set up to work. The 1TB of data for each user, plus the ability to access MS Office tools, was also kinda tempting.

As mentioned in earlier posts, we had already identified communication as an area for development, and we had tried to improve it through other aspects of school life (such as improving our use of Parentmail) but we kept hitting issues. For example, shaping the use of a new tool to fit with strategic objectives is hard to do without it is tricky to cue up and organise feedback via emails, without crossing into ‘operational’ instructions; eg “Change this. Do that”. We wanted to stay ‘strategic’ and allow SLT to find solutions to management issues. We needed a way to cue up and organise feedback and ideas – into a Trello like system, rather than overwhelm SLT with requests and suggestions.

It is also a matter of safety. By giving all governors our own accounts on the school system, we can keep all emails about school matters confidential and within the domain. It also modelled to the staff how serious we were (as governors) about personal emails not being used for school business and professionalising their use of IT systems.

What happened?

All governors were given a login to 365 (with varying success in getting going) and, to begin with, chairs of committees and SLT experimented with how to use it. As none of the governors or staff have had proper training in using 365 fully, and we knew that this shift was going to be a matter of learning together, through making mistakes! And boy, did we make a few!

Step One- Moving folders from Google Drive into 365

Google Takeout made the first part of this pretty easy (thanks to Doug Belshaw for the pointer!). I had an archive of all the folders, but no clear idea how to organise them in 365. I placed them in Sharepoint, and started to organise them there. Mistake #1!

Step Two – Setting up Groups.

We started playing with Groups in 365, and set one up for all the workstream that had been going on in the governing body, to try to organise and draw people in. Some were private, some were open. Worst of all, files in the sharepoint folders were not accessible from the Groups. At all! It was infuriating. Mistake #2!!

Step Three – Emails

Moving from emailing from our personal emails took a while, and as we explored what 365 could do, we tried posting to ‘Conversations’, comments to docs, and responding to threads in OneNote notebooks. This created a LOT of notifications, the biggest impact being on the headteacher, who hadn’t explored how to change settings for this aspect of the system. Mistake #3!!!

Where are we now?

Group focus

We have decided, after a few months of experimentation, to focus our work around 3 Groups. The governors have one for the Full Governing Body (FGB), for Accounting for Resources, and for Performance and Outcomes committees.  That’s it.

Collaborative docs

We are starting collaborating through one simple feature in having a place for all our documents online, within each group: to comment and edit via the cloud.

Building up from committee meeting pre-reading towards drawing some of the ‘back and forth’ out of the face-to-face sessions and into comment threads in docs: we hope to make much better use of our meetings to hold the school to account, develop the strategic aspects of our work, and get home home on time more often after governor meetings.

Although there is a LOT more we could be doing (and a few of us are quietly experimenting with the Planner (an almost direct copy of Trello) we felt this was the lowest common denominator for everyone to be able to make use of a familiar system in a new way; that would have the maximum impact on the working practices of both the governing body and staff.

No surprises

As the committee meetings roll around next term, we will build up agenda using the collaborative docs and social features, perhaps via the Planner. Crucially, SLT will be able to see what we are interested in before the meeting, so that they can prepare. We’ll have time to interrogate the data, and SLT can plan to take feedback on when it suits them, and not be overwhelmed by notifications.

That’s all folks

As I type this post on my lovely Chromebook, I still find myself surprised at how we have come to use 365 rather than Google. There have been lots of moments that I am amazed that I am working in the MS ecosystem again. However, it is really important to remember how varied the skill levels are in the school and governing body, so even getting everyone on one system is a huge step in the right direction.

We are not yet using Office 365 in an exemplary way,… In fact, I think we are probably missing lots of tricks. That said, I’m proud to say that we are clear in why we are using it, what problems we want to fix and how we will know if we are getting it right. We are working and learning hand-in-hand with the SLT and there is (at the moment) a lot of positive feedback to encourage us.

We’d welcome any suggestions, advice and free training (if you don’t ask…) as we continue our journey. Please get in touch or comment below.

I will update on how we are doing later in 2017 – but for now, to governors, teachers and parents, …Have a great break! We all deserve it.

Message in a bottle – Assessing what matters

 

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CC Brett Jordan

I am part of an exciting project to measure what matters in a primary school. We think others might be interested in working with us, or have already started this journey. This blog post is a ‘message in a bottle’ because we’d love to hear from you if you think you we can help each other. This post explains our rationale to gather information to help our children, beyond literacy and maths attainment.

I am a parent governor at Larkrise Primary School in Oxford. As a governing body, we are increasing our commitment to making the values that underpin our school more explicit. Like many happy schools, we know that there is a culture at the school which adds more than warm fuzzies to the life of our community, and that has tangible educational benefits.  Some years before Guy Claxton and Bill Lucus came up with their 7Cs, Larkrise developed the 5Cs.

Our 5Cs are:  Caring, Confident, Curious, Creative, and Celebrating.

The governors want to support all staff to focus on what matters to us all – balanced children who have a love of learning; who are able to use a fronted adverbial at the right time, but can also sing the right song to cheer up a friend; or cheer when a peer asks a fantastic question and presents possible answers. We feel this is proving harder as the weight of workload and data forces teachers to focus on a narrow view of what education is for.

We believe professionals should use a wealth of evidence to enable depth and richness in learning – and, alongside the SLT, have decided to support the staff to focus their teaching, informed by greater knowledge of each child and their capacities/capabilities/character.  Quality relationships are the beating heart of education.

In collaboration with the truly amazing Ed Finch, Deputy Head, I am trying to coalesce this into more strategic and actionable work. As I mentioned, we want your help. But we have already started a project to create a 5Cs Dashboard – so we can check the ‘pulse’ of our school. 

Here is what we know, so far:

  • The 5Cs dashboard will be an assessment tool, not a tracking system.
  • It will be a mechanism to raise the profile of the 5Cs in the teaching and learning.
  • We are not trying to prove kids are making progress in ‘caring’ (for eg)
  • It will be a personalised analysis tool for the adults to support the children better.

This is an assessment experiment. We expect to make mistakes over the first few years, and adapt and evolve this dashboard. Initially, we expect less robust data – but we expect to see it develop and be more useful as time goes on.

We have started creating a Minimum Viable Product  –  which we hope to use this term – and which will be reviewed and iterated on a termly basis.

If you’d like to learn more, have a similar project going on, or can help us – please get in touch with me at eylanezekiel.governor@larkrise.oxon.sch.uk , tweet, or comment on this post.

We’d love to hear your views on this and genuinely appreciate challenge or helpful critique.

What do you think?

Be Upstanding

This is a post about our failure to tackle bullying. We are locked in an ongoing story, predictably and painfully continuing to blame victims, and normalise anti-social behaviour, often through exclusion. I want to move towards a positive narrative, especially in schools; and share a few useful sources of support for those who want to ‘flip the script’, and move from being bystanders to being upstanders.

Photo by Malcolm Madders

The quotes in bold in this post are from parents sharing experiences to help each other with bullying and are included, in full, at the end of the post. Like these parents, I only have my experiences to guide my views and cannot claim any expertise – so feel free to ignore or dismiss any assertions herein.

“Whilst being wrong, unfortunately bullying exists throughout life.”

Most of us believe that bullying is a fact of a life; one that most kids will experience.  You’d probably never say this out loud at work, especially if you’ve recently had safeguarding training! However, when teachers talk in the staffroom, or parents huddle under umbrellas in the playground; there is a sad shake of the head and a sigh that goes with the admission that ‘It’s inevitable – but it will prepare kids for adult life’.

This is the problem. Bullying, or rather the state of being bullied, leads the victim to feel powerless, degraded and doomed to remain in a situation that has no escape doors; and which everyone around them seems to accept.

Those teachers in the staffroom are failing the kids in their classes who are being broken by bullying, and those parents in the playground are turning away from the responsibility to help their offspring be good citizens and know how to develop positive relationships.

We tell kids to go and talk to a teacher; or employees to go to HR: and explain what they have seen or what is happening to them. Which is often nearly impossible, right?  Schools and employers wait for an employee, child or a parent to come and report ‘bullying’. It is only then that a bullying policy would be activated. So, it is up to the victims to say that the environment is not as protective as it might seem.

I think it is this ‘fixed mindset’ that perpetuates bullying. Though it is partly caused by the depersonalisation of care – as we attempt to systematise all our societal problems, it is this poisonous belief that we all deserve bullying in our lives that makes it so hard to remove .

As a meme, bullying has embedded itself as a hidden sickness within the body of our institutions and society.  We tell ourselves bullying is inevitable because we carry the virus inside us: transmitting the tacit acceptance of bullying to the next generation.

Flipping the script is hard, and takes effort, trust and some cooperation. Firstly, we should be good bystanders. Anyone can stop bullying. No policy or complex intervention is required. We should expect anyone; child or adult – at school or the workplace,  to be ethical and caring, and say “No! That is not ok. I will not stand by. Please stop this now.” This simple video sums this up pretty well.

For more information on elementary education visit KidsInTheHouse.com

We should more directly praise ‘pro-social’ behaviour and let those who feel bullied know, from the get go, that it is a failure of the environment – not the people in it.

That means not claiming that your organisation has no, or very little, bullying. Yes, Ofsted, and employment tribunals will be confused by your honesty – but they are also likely to impressed by your commitment to depriving bullying of the oxygen of deceit that it needs

“My advice would be avoid the use of the word bullying if at all possible as it is a very inflammatory term.”

Even as you try to report bullying you run up against the first of many challenges. We know this is a label that we can use – but are too often afraid to use it.  We are afraid of the power of this simple term and the admission it points to: that we are largely failing ourselves and our children.


Labels are painful and often unhelpful. Bullies are often victims too and people can feel bullied without there being a bully/bullies.  We are so often searching for the simple binary dynamic of aggressor and victim that we miss the more complex problems that really corrode character and resilience.

We should be focused on the environment and the values of the people in that place. So what can you do to make a more healthy environment?

Make a clear statement of inclusion. All the time. Every day. Invite openness – bring conflict out of the shadows, and manage your people, yourself and your spaces – to ensure that no one feels damaged by their place of work or learning.

Society is held together by bonds between people. If you don’t actively make bonds stick, and actively create a caring environment where exclusion (selection) is part of the norm, you are (de facto) being anti-social. This is true of workplaces, classrooms, and whole systems (see the debate over Grammars/Independent schools).

I believe that in schools, we become complicit with the ‘looking away, and that children believe that bullying is something that they have to accept and that their weaknesses are real and are something to be on constant guard for.

Of course, some find alternative remedies and thrive – yet others stay fractured; either perpetuating the problem or turning in on themselves and self-harming.

Bullying is not just about disruptive or visible abuse. All too often, schools and workplaces focus on the bullying that impacts others apart from the victim. To reach for a lazy stereotype, teachers will arrange classes so that boys stop fighting, but are happy to leave the girls because however much pain they might be causing one of their number through exclusion and subtle cruelty, it is rarely disruptive to learning.

Finally, I have ‘skin in the game’. I was bullied from nine till fifteen years old. It shaped me, creating social callouses where the daily abuse rubbed away at my trust – and leaving fractures in my confidence, protected by habits of self-deprecation and avoidance. My recent brush with depression quickly uncovered the painful scars hidden beneath. After thirty years, I am shocked to find that despite all the increased knowledge and work to reduce bullying, I am seeing children being broken in the same way that I was.

We all deserve better. So, let’s do better. 

There is, of course, wonderful help and great advice out there – but I really liked what I found here:

https://www.kidpower.org/library/article/prevent-bullying/

https://www.kidscape.org.uk/media/152791/kspreventingbullying.pdf

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/film-festival-bullying-prevention-upstanders

http://www.spinney.cambs.sch.uk/prosp_pol/policies/Anti%20Bullying%20Policy.pdf

http://restorativejustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/qjl3_lewisham_antibullying_policy_and_guidance_for_those_working_with_children_and_young_people.pdf

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-Bees-Wannabes-boyfriends-realities/dp/0749924373/ref=la_B001IOH8ZW_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474144252&sr=1-1

 

Parental quotes – Thanks to those who gave permission for me to use their words.

“… bottom line: if it doesn’t work change schools. From the experiences of friends with girls this kind of toxic queen bee shit is very difficult to stop simply because the “rewards” for the queen and her acolytes are so great”

“My M suffered with ‘queen bee’ rubbish in primary. I talked to one of the parents and although she reacted appropriately it didn’t change in the long run. This issue whilst being wrong unfortunately exists throughout life. My tactic was to empower M to have the resilience to cope. It took time. Now there are new queen bees and she seems to be able to see them for what they are And get on with things.”

“We went through this with E. She was on the receiving end for a while, and we did deal with it via the school. Not always satisfactory and ultimately ended up with girl being removed by her parents”

“I think almost anyone can become a bully, and conversely almost anyone can be bullied, so it is not anything ‘wrong’ with the bullied person, just the circumstances, mix of children, etc. Therefore once bullied, NOT always bullied thereafter. We’ve done talking plus giving them some tools for their toolbox when the bullying occasions arise. Including a bit of humour (eg “if all else fails, deck ’em!”, which they know is a joke but lightens things…)”

“I was bullied by girls. Solidarity (not sympathy) is what is needed. (It was the 70s, no one dealt with it properly, sorry no suggestions of what to do right)”

“Try and make sure that they continue to confide in you, and doesn’t try to deal with it alone. It’s probably not the right message, but when it was one of ours, after months of dealing with the school, standing up to the bully was the only thing that worked. Not being afraid to not tolerate their behaviour. And maybe sympathy isn’t such a bad thing: knowing that others widely recognises that the behaviour is awful, having support, is understanding not pity, & stops that feeling that you are in some way to blame.”