Not Just a Teacher

binge thinking on technology and education

Not Just a Teacher

The Party Poppers

March 3rd, 2017 · No Comments · General

Gradually, and I have to say it is gradual, I feel like I am witnessing more and more of the talk of inevitable, necessary change in education becoming a reality. I feel that the minority of educators who dared talk about such issues, perhaps after watching ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ seven years ago, are part of a growing majority who openly include such discussions in a meeting on STEM advancement, in classroom refits or in professional development circles. Whether we have achieved critical mass or not is a matter for another post. What is important, however, is that there a number of educators in a number of schools asking questions and making changes, admitting that school systems are in need of major overhaul and trying to figure out how best to approach such issues. However, I wonder whether some of things I see are actually more akin to repair than to change.

To repair something is basically to restore it to a condition where it is usable, where it works. Therefore, if there is consensus that, for example, sitting in rows and being lectured at for hours on end was not working, surely changing that approach to teaching and learning to something that is considered to be more effective is a repair, isn’t it? Of course, a change has occurred in such situations, and I am not cynical enough to suggest that repairs cannot be seen as progress, but is progress enough to get out the party poppers?

The noun ‘innovation’ is defined as “A new method, idea, product, etc.”  In education circles, according to OECD (2014), “innovation can take place through either significant changes in the use of a particular educational practice or the emergence of new practices in an educational system”. Looking at these, I am a little confused. Innovation’s true meaning tells me to look for something new but when applied to education, being ‘new’ is not required. I can, instead look for ‘significant changes’. Yet, talk of ‘changes’ sets me right back into the issue of repairs mentioned earlier. Perhaps the key here is that word ‘significant’ and that’s what educators should all be aiming for if we are to move from mere repair, degrees of progress (however small), to innovation.

Not for a minute am I wishing to dampen anyone’s flames of advancement nor am I attempting to be the Statler and Waldorf as education moves forward. I love to see new ideas, new thinking, excitement as students and teachers prosper in learning environments that truly address their learning needs. Yet, I can’t help but wonder whether, most of the time, what I am witnessing is just progress and not innovation, reparation and not ‘significant change’. Perhaps, we have to be a little more careful about when we set off the party poppers.

image adapted from


Teaching amnesia

September 9th, 2016 · No Comments · General

It has been a while since the last post but, in my opinion, this just has to be shared and the subsequent questions asked:



(Shulman, L. S. (1999). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Learners and pedagogy, 61-77.)

If you believe there is some truth to this,

  • How is this acceptable in the digital/sharing age when video and images are ubiquitous?
  • What must be done to enable the culture to change?


Feature image courtesy of


Pub Schools

February 13th, 2016 · No Comments · General

No doubt the title has grabbed your attention but unfortunately for some people, this post is not going to champion the concept of having a school with beer on tap in the staffroom or classroom (although I am open to suggestions on that one!).

I admit my mind works in some bizarre ways some times and a certain sense of being on the spectrum prevents me from stepping off a thought treadmill. This is one of those times. Let me explain….

Having started at a new school in a new position in the last few weeks and having worked in a number of different schools in a few countries, I have come to a conclusion. To my mind, working in schools is quite unique. It is not like most other jobs. The only thing I can think of that it compares to is owning a pub. Let’s deal with the ‘quite unique’ first- What other profession do you move from one location to another and

  • the culture be so different?
  • the way systems and process are carried out change so radically?
  • interpretation of rules and guidelines be so different from one outlet to another under the same authority?
  • the expectations of staff and students change so much?

I have never been a doctor, a lawyer, a cop, a nurse, etc etc but I have had many jobs outside of teaching. In none of my previous vocations have I witnessed this. In other professions, I just can’t see how many aspects would be that much different from place to place. Of course, being a cop in a rural setting would be different than in metro likewise the day-to-day duties of a vet in a suburb are most likely different than in the country but that is not what I am referring to. I am talking about how each school, even neighbouring schools, can have variances on all the question listed above re culture, systems, etc.

The only similarity I can see is in owning a pub and the key word is ‘some’ here. Having never owned a pub, only worked and frequented a few, I am guessing at some of this but, to my mind, taking ownership of a pub means you have to do the following:

  • get to know the regulars and the culture of the place
  • look at how systems work in the establishment
  • consider what local interpretations there are of guidelines and rules (just think of the pool table etiquette and rules for this one!!)
  • think about what appeals, what is wanted and expected from clientele

So, in essence, there are some strange similarities.

Now, I am not suggesting for a minute this is bad thing. I am not quite sure what to think of it to be honest. I definitely do not want schools need to be homogeneous establishments of learning where teachers come out of the ‘Stepford’ mould. If we look at the way pub culture has been decimated in last few years in the UK and many ‘real’ character places wiped out, there is something to learn though. Schools, like pubs, have to be viable. They have to cater for what their clientele want and need. They have to be efficient and effective but most important, they can never be complacent. Constant checking over the shoulder and a focus on development, while being acutely aware of your own place, has to sit at the heart of every school.


The Principal’s open door policy

February 6th, 2016 · No Comments · General

I am no expert on managerial or leadership styles. Of course I have read quite a bit, had considerable experience but I have more to learn and while ever I am in leadership, I will learn more.  Without doubt, there are many elements to effective leadership and few would argue that schools are complex eco systems to lead. Thus, there are many commentators with real insight and vision who are worth listening to: John Tomsett, Caroline FishpoolJon AndrewsEric Sheninger, to name a few.

With the amount of opinion and afore mentioned complexity, the range of advice as to what are the most important/most effective areas for leaders to focus on is broad. From my perspective though, inclusiveness and empowerment are vital components. In the same way as I have advocated, perhaps a little too loudly, for the student voice to become action (see NOT Voice), ensuring the Principal’s open door policy is more than a token gesture cannot be undervalued.

The ‘corridor of power’ exists in many schools and I love the work of John Goh  to disrupt that. Yet, for a leader to come into an organisation and make an immediate impact or for all staff to truly feel they have the power to positively influence the school they work in, the elements of inclusiveness and empowerment are the key. I think this diagram provides a visual representation of my views in this area:

A Model for education leadership


NOT voice

December 19th, 2015 · 6 Comments · General

Earlier today, @mesterman prompted me to read another blog post by the continually inspiring @mrkrndvs: Vision for eLearning. A confident and provocative post, there is a lot to take from Aaron’s work. However, there was a point I felt I had to make to Aaron on Twitter and the resulting discussion involving @rgesthuizen@ozjuliancox@rhonimcfarlane prompted this blog post.

Basically, the issue is:

“it has to be student action …not voice. I prefer to label it as having students active in integrating tech

My current slog through a PhD, researching Improvements to Technology Integrated Pedagogy: The Role of K-12 Students, has this description:

“Personal experience in the field of involving students as an active element in the technology integration process indicates to me that their involvement could greatly influence its success. In a variety of capacities, students can take an active role in how technology is used in classrooms, how and what their peers should learn, sharing their existing knowledge and the best approaches in using technology to meeting the needs of learning exercises and students (Mullen, 2015). The role does not need to be confined to classroom practice, however. It can be seen in physical design of learning spaces (Classrooms of the Future, 2003) and in decision-making around the enhancement of technology enabled learning, advising on policy and curriculum matters (State Government Victoria Dept of Education and Training, 2014).
Describing students as having an active role, in this research, is intended to highlight where they are empowered and given responsibilities involving the use of technology in school. Inactive, or for want of better terminology, indirect action by students exists in most schools. Examples of these range from self-organised online study groups to personal use of technology in learning such as choosing digital methods for presenting work. I also see active roles as those that are sanctioned by the school and a component of the learning process. These do no cover non-sanctioned ways such as having a mobile text conversation with a friend as a distraction from classroom activities.”
In Aaron’s blog post, he cited work by @PeterMDeWittWithout Student Voice, Technology Just Fosters Another Type of Compliance and, to my mind, much of what he talks about in this post concurs with my views. Terms such as ‘fostering’, ‘amplifying’ and ‘working collaboratively with students’ are the essential ingredients to student voice being action. They are the foundations for active involvement of students in technology enhanced education.
In many ways, @rhonimcfarlane is right to argue that these are merely labels and it is what we do that really matters. What I think is important, however, is that we distinguish in two ways for this context:
  • between those in education who think they have done enough to ‘modernise’ and empower their school by letting students have a voice, for example in a student council but there only real power is at such a low level as changing the quality of the toilet paper as opposed to those who are willing to let their students get involved in education decision-making from top to bottom, real projects that they own, learn from and learn with the staff in the school and communities beyond
  • that technology continues to revolutionise education, to upset the traditional relationships and roles that have existed for centuries. I love this as an explanation:

“We now face a situation in which the teachers and experts, who know more than the learners about the ‘stuff’ we want people to learn, may well not know as much as the learners about the technologies that could act as learning tools. There is now a real opportunity for reciprocal teaching and learning.” (Luckin, 2008)

Thus, the language does matter because in some ways, student voice could be argued to have been tainted by weak, low-level empowerment of students and because we are now facing power shifts on a completely different level due to technology. Whether you agree or not, I will keep banging the action NOT voice drum 🙂


An adventure with Minecraft

October 21st, 2015 · No Comments · General

2000px-Grass_block_stylized.svgAs part of my current role, I have been working on a number of small projects with teachers who wish to explore some technology enhanced education ‘juiciness’. This was a very early exploration into the use of Minecraft for teaching a History topic, in this case Feudal Japan. The world had been built by a student Minecraft group on Minecraft Edu. There had been a number of technical issues and hurdles to overcome to get to this ‘pilot’ stage.

It is hoped that by sharing this, other educators may get an insight into this facet of games based learning, some of the pros and cons, the logistics and a realistic look at what will/can happen in such a lesson.

  •  Logistics
    • First lesson using Minecraft
    • Mixed ability Year 8 class
    • One special needs students
    • A group of experienced Minecraft users (boys)
    • BYOD, wireless provision in classroom, one Mac and one Windows Surface Tablet (remainder Windows laptops)
    • Teacher running Minecraft server from Teacher laptop
    • Minecraft admin/Teacher role also run from Teacher laptop
    • Student from Minecraft group assisting in a Minecraft admin/Teacher role using Teacher laptop
  • Technical issues
    • Mac and Windows Surface Tablet would not load Minecraft Edu
    • A couple of early issues were fixed by IT Support – both Java
    • Some minor lagging on lower capacity laptops
    • Sever crash after about 1 hour 15 min of double lesson


As this was a pilot and given previous technical issues, the structure of the lesson was loose. Teacher had to spend time getting everyone on to the Minecraft Edu server and into the Japanese world. This involved a few students having to visit IT Helpdesk and a few successful re-tries from students.

After approx. 15 mins, most students were into the Japanese world and most were freely exploring. Hardly any students were challenged by being able to move about in the world and operate Minecraft controls even though when asked, some students had never or hardly ever played it before. The first exercise was to find the Command Block and all students seemed able to do that. In this area, they were supposed to be able to build. Sand block was in use but some issues in discovering how to share Sand Block.

Some early exploratory exercises were introduced. These seemed very simple for some students (issues of differentiation). However they did allow for exploration and it was clear students were noticing architecture, asking relevant questions such as, “What is a dojo?” Students did not think to come out of the world and search for what a dojo should look like. All of this is clearly an area for development.

Students often used signs to locate objects/buildings and other students seemed to find it hard to remove themselves from distractions of ‘chasey’ games and general exploration in the world to focus on exploratory exercises. Also, difficult for teacher to assist students in exploration as different issues for teacher to deal with.

From quite early on, the group of experienced Minecraft users were attempting to disrupt the world, escape from it and destroy elements of it. They saw this as the challenge and attracted interest from other boys also interested in same but with less experience. Some of this seemed to be related to challenging student from Minecraft group. They found glitches and exploited them. Student from Minecraft group ‘punished’ them (such as freezing) in return. This seemed something of a power battle.

Task was given (orally) to explore and think of a question/activity that could be given to a teacher/students exploring this world. It was difficult to ascertain who actually invested any time in this task given distractions already mentioned. In my view, this was a worthwhile exercise and would produce solid, early thinking that would help students in focussing.

Engagement of students in Minecraft was very high (see ). Students were sharing, interacting and generally enthralled in the online environment. There was healthy and very enthusiastic learning in respect of Minecraft itself and in terms of collaboration, interaction, sharing. How this transferred into learning about the intended topic – Feudal Japan is questionable. This was reflected in both the comments they made and in observations of their behaviour.

From a well-being point of view, there was clear evidence in growth mindset, in positive behaviour and collaboration during the interactions in the world. The atmosphere in the classroom was one of excitement from all students (Minecraft users and non-users). Those unable to use their own device were still able to partake in the activities through sharing with those connected although they commented that it would have been better to have had their own connection.


A Precinct School

August 6th, 2015 · 4 Comments · General

I had the pleasure of attending the Vice Chancellor’s Breakfast at UniSA last week where David Lloyd and several senior members of the university staff publically launched their Digital Learning Strategy. I praised and shared the strategy via Twitter when it was first announced and blogged about it. I still hold it up as a strong example for all areas of education to follow in terms of declaration of intent, strategic direction and action planning to achieve goals set with reference to technology enhanced education. Knowing the process they went through to publish this strategy, I think there is also much to be said for pro-active, driven, co-ordinated actions to rubber stamp fundamental changes to teaching and learning.

However, there was something else mentioned on that morning that caught my intention and has plagued my thoughts ever since.

There have been plans at UniSA to build an ‘education precinct’ at their Magill Campus. I already knew of that but I wasn’t aware of the intention to have a secondary school in that precinct. Now, that’s nothing new as a concept. ASMS has been a feature of Flinders University for a number of years. What was ‘new’ to me was the mention of possibly having teachers in some sort of pedagogical innovation scheme where they came for a set period of time to teach in a certain way.

Unless the bacon sandwiches distracted me, I don’t think we received any more information than I have provided, but I immediately thought that this is an interesting idea. I am picturing a school where there is a backbone of ‘permanent’ staff but then each term/semester/year staff from other schools come to teach using a certain pedagogical approach (or approaches). Would this push innovation forward? Would it lead to teachers going back to their schools with greater experience and knowledge of effective pedagogy? Would the students in the precinct school benefit from this experience or could it be detrimental to their education? Would there be issues with instability and/or lack of student/teacher relationships?

I wonder what opinions are on this matter, whether such models have been done before and what were the findings.


Am I better off writing a letter to Santa?

July 26th, 2015 · No Comments · General

I had the pleasure of spending a day with @danhaesler last week. He gave a day of workshops on Teaching Kids to Stretch. This, as you would expect if you have followed any of his work, was very much part of his take on well-being. Having had many conversations with Dan and seen him present, I was keen to get my hands dirty with his ideas and the practicalities of application in this area not only as a teacher but as a parent of two primary school aged children.

The day was a great learning experience for me, and colleagues I shared it with tended to echo my feelings. Yet, it wasn’t the content that was so ‘out there’, so revolutionary, so mind-changing. In my opinion, it was the delivery that made the difference. I hold my hands up at this point and admit I like Dan as a person. I think we have a lot in common and despite the fact he was born on the wrong side of the Pennines, Lancashire not Yorkshire, he is a good sort. Yet, this doesn’t stop me from standing back and being as objective as I can. Hence, I would like to say he is damn good at what he does.

So, what makes him ‘damn good’ and other presenters, other workshop conveners, not so? To me, it comes down to the delivery style and he, as I witnessed @tombarrett do a couple of months earlier, used styles that, although different, were on the wave length of any average teacher. Dan’s anecdotal, storytelling (often including his own son) approach elevates the passion of his work. In my opinion, he presents his beliefs in applying Carol Dweck’s fixed/growth mindset in such a convincing fashion because he has real life examples that are really easy to imagine and empathise with.

In a chat with him over lunch that day, I asked him where all this work is going for him, where he sees himself in a few years. He shrugged in reply saying he didn’t know then said, “I’m just a PE teacher”. At the end of the day, he told the workshop that, “any of you could stand up and deliver this”. Unfortunately, he could not be further from the truth. Undoubtedly, some people in the room could have gone some way to match him but far more could not have. What Dan represents in my eyes, is someone who is willing to invest time in figuring out learners, what motivates them, what inspires improvements in their learning and ultimately in their achievements. In a similar way, it could be argued @tombarrett and the NoTosh crew have done likewise with learning activities. They have then devoted huge amounts of energy to honing their craft in how to deliver their messages to those at the coal face. This is no mean feat.

When I returned to school the next day gushing over my experiences with @danhaesler, a colleague of mine really summed it up for me. I said to him that much of what I learned was simple down-to-earth application of Carol Dweck’s work. His reply was something along the lines of, “yeah, but he has obviously taken the time to deconstruct Dweck’s work, to figure out how it can be applied and indeed how it should be best applied to maximise effectiveness. That has to be applauded.” This got me thinking about the difficulties full-time teachers face in mimicking Dan and Tom’s in-depth work. It is very difficult to both commit the time to gaining hardcore knowledge of such a subject but also to build up the presentation techniques that enable high quality delivery. Perhaps such opportunities need to be engineered by those strategically planning education systems. Or am I better off writing a letter to Santa?


An unlevel playing field

June 9th, 2015 · 1 Comment · General

unlevel playing field


Digital technology is an unlevel playing field. In my opinion, it is the most unlevel playing field we have ever faced in education. Looking back at the history of education, there has been no other time when something has had such an effect on people yet the level of knowledge and expertise of users of technology is so difficult to determine. A bold statement you might suggest but let’s investigate this and look at the evidence.

Firstly, it is very important to look at digital technology as an umbrella term. I like this definition of it:

“the branch of scientific or engineering knowledge that deals with the creation and practical use of digital or computerized devices, methods, systems, etc” (

We commonly associate digital technology with use of devices, consumer devices, such as phones, tablets, laptops. Yet, as this definition shows, digital technology is also about creation not to mention the involvement of systems and methods. Highly significant in the unlevel playing field argument is an understanding of the breadth of the definition and the ‘creations and practical uses’ that can be seen as digital technology. To better comprehend this, let’s consider some examples, realistic scenarios, that are likely to be happening right now in schools anywhere in the developed world:

  • Young people who are highly proficient users of a particularly area of social media eg Tumblr. They know how to navigate and manipulate the space. They post and connect as they see fit. Some are very skilled at using this space to market their interests, to network
  • Teachers who have self-taught (or Youtube taught) network skills. They have experience as they have set up and maintained a small wired/wireless network
  • Young people who have used online interactive platforms eg Codecademy or MOOCs to teach themselves how to code in a particular language. They program their own robots or build apps and network with like-minded individuals worldwide via user groups and forums
  • Teachers who regularly use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They rely on these social media spaces to for friendship, sharing practice and socialisation. They are highly competent and active users who have developed know-how over years of use.

Of course I could go on and the list of examples demonstrating involvement in digital technology is vast.

Yet, the list above should not just be looked at in terms of what technology is being used for, what the involvement is. I listed sets of people, teachers/young people, and in any of the examples given they could be interchanged with ease. This is the second point in understanding this unlevel playing field: we rarely have any idea who has expertise let alone in what area of digital technology that expertise lies.

There is, however, a third point when we consider the people involved, namely, that formal education or schooling, qualifications, age, what is commonly referred to as experience have no bearing on who is involved in digital technology. The plethora of learning opportunities freely and readily available online are a conduit to expertise in areas of digital technology not to mention the expertise that can come from immersion, involvement and use.

So, all in all, when we look at digital technology, we look at an area of our lives that has many subsections, lots of specialisms. There are few factors we can point to that provide reliable evidence to enable easy identification of who has expertise and where that expertise lies. Hence, we have a huge unlevel playing field.

Image courtesy of


Diving into Argument Mapping

February 23rd, 2015 · No Comments · General

I have had the pleasure of using Rationale recently to look at the concept of argument mapping. In it’s rawest form this can be seen as ‘essay writing with trainer wheels’ according to a colleague of mine. I really like how it visually represents prose and breaks down the structure of essays to enable students to see how to construct these pieces of work.

The visual nature of this tool enables students to be able to see how their work should be mapped out and how balanced or unbalanced discussions can be depending on the work being done.

argument An Argumentative template shows visually that you are creating an argument in favour of something.






An Issues template shows in a similar way how the the reasons and objections are more balanced in this piece of work.



Using maps to plan out an essay in the map, provides students with their essay at the same time and the export facility gives an .rtf file that the students can use to further their work.










Using the tool, brought into questions of whether students should be restricted, structured in their work from the outset or should they be left to play, to fall over in different ways (eg provide too many reasons in an essay that has a word limit). However, the tool does have facilities to accommodate your pedagogical approach.

I also have concerns about whether use of Rationale without strong teaching would lead to bland essays that had a very formulaic structure but perhaps that is what is needed. It could be argued that any tool still needs good teaching to support it so Rationale is no different in that respect.

All in all, I find this a really useful insight into a lovely example of how technology can enhance traditional educational practice.