Not really my cup of tea
I'm not someone who has ever kept a diary or other form of journal. In my life as an engineer before teaching I worked towards Chartered Engineer professional accreditation and as part of that I needed to record my activities in a log as part of providing evidence of my professional development. While I was successful in achieving chartered engineer status I found the whole recording process incredibly dull, and stopped as soon as I was able to.
Similarly part of my initial teacher training required me to write a blog about the progress of one of my groups, and again I found this really difficult to muster any enthusiasm for, and again I stopped as soon as I was no longer required to complete it.
Therefore starting a blog of my own when nobody was forcing me to would seem like a really daft thing for me to do, given my history of disliking it!
As far as twitter was concerned, I was massively skeptical. How on earth could a social network be of benefit professionally?
Just another thing to do
In addition to never having liked anything like blogging in the past I am also a busy Head of Department, a husband, and a father to two young girls. I already work more hours than I probably should (and substantially more than I ever did when I was an engineer), and spend more time than is probably healthy thinking about work. So why would I voluntarily start writing this blog and give myself another thing to do?
For that matter why would I also create and update a new account on twitter? Surely I'd be better off not doing all of this and just getting on with my job, and spending more time with my family?
So why do it?
Since I've started this whole twitter & blogging activity I have rapidly become converted to the benefits. I'll try to explain why here:
1) Organising ideas
In my day to day work with my department we have come up with a massive array of ideas as part of improving what we do. Now that I am writing them down properly (so that other people can understand them) I am forced to think in much more detail about what we have done and why we have done it. As a result it makes me much more reflective and analytical of my practice as a departmental leader and a teacher. After all, if I am going to say or recommend something potentially to the entire world via my blog I had better be fairly sure I know what my personal view on it is, and also what evidence I have to support what I'm saying.
2) Sharing ideas across schools and across countries
I worked in the car industry before being a teacher, an industry that has processes and procedures for everything. Given that experience of a global organisation working on fairly diverse products under a highly standardised management structure it is a constant source of amazement to me that every school I've been to in the UK is run with a different leadership model and management structure. In fact it goes further and every department or faculty in every school I've been in is run in a different way. For example every school has their own performance management model and process; They have their own behaviour policies, rewards systems, and timetabling processes; They have their own way of collecting and sharing data on students at a school level, and within a school there are usually wholly different ways of doing that same job across each department.
I find this very strange - we all have the same basic job to do. We're all helping students to be the best that they can be. All UK schools are measured by the same metrics (alright there are differences with the exam system in Scotland, but you know what I mean). All UK teachers have the same standards to meet.
Why should a school in London be run in a fundamentally different way, using completely different documents, formats and procedures to a school in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Belfast, Dundee?
If you're going to tell me it's to protect the personal preference and individuality of the teachers, leaders and students involved then I have to disagree. For example having a good method for recording and analysing pupil data isn't about expressing your individuality it's simply about good management.
Having the right tools to do the best job we can shouldn't depend on the individual skills of the particular member of staff that happens to do the job. For example if someone is really good at using Excel you could have a department with an amazing spreadsheet that can identify pupil underperformance and put plans in place to respond really quickly. However in the department next door or the school down the road the relevant member of staff might not have the same skills. Does that mean that the students in that subject or the school down the road should miss out on the early detection and intervention actions? Of course it shouldn't... but that's exactly what happens because the department next door or school down the road often don't know that anything different is even possible!! It's not that the other department or other school aren't working hard enough, or even that they don't have the right person in the job, it's the lack of a standard best practice model of school and department management. This standard model should come with the appropriate toolkit of best practice documents to eliminate the need for local experts to create something that has the same basic requirements in every department across the country.
As a new head of department in 2011 I either inherited and adapted or invented from scratch all of the systems and processes that are now running in my department. I did this based on what I thought would work best, and on what I decided I needed to manage the department effectively. There was no central source of best practice documents from within or from outside my school. As a result I'm sure I reinvented the wheel in some cases. I know that there are others out there who have already solved some of the problems that I find. Similarly I might have found solutions to problems that others are currently struggling with. The more open we can make this, the more we can share document formats, and share our procedures the better we can make the provision for our students.
Since starting this blog I have discovered contacts with other educators and heads of department that are wrestling with similar issues to me. I've shared formats for timetabling, analysing tests, book reviews, questioning, and shared ideas on a range of other topics. This is why blogs, twitter and initiatives like teaching dropboxes from @mrlockyer to share our documents and ideas is so good. I have also been the grateful recipient of a huge range of ideas for my classroom and for my department.
3) Discovering ideas
Just a few of the things I've stumbled upon via twitter and other blogs are:
Blogs and sites with interesting ideas and resources for maths:
http://donsteward.blogspot.co.uk/ by Don Steward
http://mathssandpit.co.uk/blog/ by @ms_kmp
http://www.estimation180.com/ by @mr_stadel
http://101qs.com by @ddmeyer
http://reasonandwonder.wordpress.com/ by @mjfenton
http://justmaths.co.uk/ by @justmaths
http://www.greatmathsteachingideas.com/ by @maths_master
Interesting Teaching & Learning resources for all subjects:
The 5 min lesson plan & related resources http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan/inset-for-5minplan/ by @TeacherToolkit
The level up series http://www.malit.org.uk/category/teaching-strategies/ by @OTeaching
An absloute wealth of T&L info on http://www.bulmershetoolkit.blogspot.co.uk/ by @ASTsupportAAli
Some interesting ideas on success through marginal gains on http://marginallearninggains.com/ by @fullonlearning
Management level info:
Loads going on under the #sltchat banner on twitter - you can find almost anything on there, or someone who can offer an interesting perspective.
There is also other great stuff from @headguruteacher on http://headguruteacher.com/
There are loads more out there that I've found and been inspired by and I apologise if I've missed you off the list (though I do always try to re-tweet when I find something I like) - you'll probably be on the next list...
4) Generating enthusiasm
Basically writing this blog and being on twitter is making me better at my job. I have found hundreds of like minded people out there, dong all sorts of interesting things to improve learning. I find myself thinking "I need to think about that some more so I can write about it properly" at various points during the week. I also no longer find it difficult to find the right resource for a topic (in fact it's now becoming a question of which of the excellent resources should I use rather than looking for one that is suitable).
In conjunction with my teaching & learning leader for my department I try to include a weekly teaching & learning tip for my department. Since being on twitter we are never short of ideas on this.
Now I find myself two months into this process and this is my 10th post. My blog has now been viewed by people on every continent (something I'm quite astounded by - the web really is world wide isn't it!!). The number of people viewing it has risen steadily, as has the number of people following me on twitter. What's more I've had some really nice comments and feedback in various formats.
While these views and followers are nice I've realised that I'm not actually writing this for anyone else. It doesn't matter if nobody reads it; the reflection it helps me to do is worthwhile on its own. If what I write and share helps anyone else be better at their job, and therefore brings some more success for some students then that's even better! Being part of this wider twitter/blogosphere is a really interesting way to keep my approach to the department and my own teaching fresh and packed with new ideas.
As always I'd be really keen to hear what you think. Please leave a comment or drop me a line on twitter.