Posted in random ramblings

Heroic teachers or teacher heroics?

Recently I have been tired. Bone achingly, soul crushingly tired.I feel like the fire has gone from my soul. It is the end of term, I had a 2 day field trip last weekend,  meetings three days after school this week (including friday – who even does that..?),  Parent teacher interviews 2 nights next week plus a whole load of other stuff I should get done. I haven’t finished uploading the #scichatNZ #teachmeet videos, I haven’t finished a scholarship resource I planned to do, and I haven’t marked a level one science test my students did last friday. I’m also really certain I am not the only teacher in the country saying 6 days to go…… and then you see articles like this one saying holidays need to change.

And worst of all I feel like I am letting everyone down. Myself, my students, my schools, my family. The ‘guilt’ is crushing.

A couple of weeks back I had a chance conversation with some-one about my concerns for teacher workload and teacher PLD – how can we make is sustainable and fair and even accessible for everyone. I talked about scichatNZ and why we (Matt Nicoll and company) had started it, and how educamps and teachmeets might help fill that gap. The reply I got was unexpected and thought provoking…. it was something along the lines of

‘this is the problem with the heroic model, people fill gaps so the problem isn’t addressed, and then people burn out’.

Which is exactly what I have found – the team definitely burned out, and me with them. Even trying to be more sustainable this year, it has been a massive struggle to get people involved and contributing.

Having only recently been introduced to the heroic leader model by Welby Ings fabulous book disobedient teaching, I had never considered this to apply to me. I don’t consider myself a hero!! But in the couple of weeks since this conversation, and watching my colleagues crumble into piles of tired, flu filled ‘grump’ I think that perhaps many teachers and schools fit this model to a degree. We are asked to be heroes and champions, we are asked to do the impossible, every year gets more complicated and full, and we just keep doing what we do. And as Welby Ings says of heroic leaders….

In the end they become self defeating because the more heroic they are, the more they increase the gap between dependancy and empowerment.

(Ings, disobedient teaching 2017)

And as David Bowie says – we can be hereos, but just for one day.

So are teachers, by their can do attitude, yes I’ll pick up the slack, yip I’ll bend over backwards, actually causing harm by making the system too reliant on them? Are teachers fixing a problem for a short while, but unintentionally masking the real issues behind them.

So how does this apply to me in the classroom?

I can apply this thought process to my students learning. If I spoon feed them all the answers and don’t provide opportunities for them to fail, then I don’t think they ‘learn’. True, they might be able to repeat back some facts about Chem. But I don’t just want my students to remember Chem, I want them to learn resilience, compassion, empathy. I want them to relate what they are learning about to their lives and the lives of others. I’m struggling with the idea that to teach them these things, I might have to be less compassionate myself. It is a strange saying, sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. Is it true though?

I recently went a bit ‘ranty’ at my level 3 Chem class because I got a torrid of excuses for not having completed some work and/or bombing in an assessment. ‘I couldn’t find the notes online’. ‘I was doing a different internal’. ‘I didn’t understand it’. Why didn’t you ask I said. Blank stares and I didn’t have time type defensive comments followed. So I told them all if pak n save rang for a reference, I wouldn’t recommend them for the job. They demonstrated they couldn’t follow instructions, avoided a simple task, and then did not take responsibility for not having done said task. If you were an employee and didn’t do something you were asked, and then said you didn’t know how but didn’t ask for help, I’m pretty sure most bosses would be saying see you later. You can imagine the looks and feels I got for that statement 🙂 But as a classroom teacher I do bend over backwards to help my students, I am available via email or text pretty much whenever, I give up noncontacts and after school for tutorials and questions, and I know I am not alone in this. I have heard of teacher picking kids up on weekends to get to a tutorial. I know the harm that this could cause my students – this idea that Mrs Chisnall will come along and save the day, so I don’t need to panic now – does, but I also really really want my kids to achieve success. And my school wants kids to achieve success, and my community wants kids to achieve success. At the end of the day, the credit crunch counts and it is my ‘job’ to get kids over the line.

Another (more heartbreaking and more complex and political ) way I think this can be applied to schools was this article about kids going hungry in the holidays because, in many cases, the food they got at school was the only food they ate all day. I was torn between anger at the fact that kids go hungry at all, frustration that poverty in New Zealand is so real that some families genuinely can not afford to feed their children, and sadness that some parents assume that school will feed their kids, and so don’t think about it when it is holidays. A prime case of dependancy rather than empowerment. Heroic schools and teachers are not just about changing education, we are being (in my opinion) asked to fill the role of parents more and more. That article lead to this blog post about why we still have cracks. So many students are still falling through them, despite all the heroic efforts of classroom teachers, schools and community groups. My school feeds quite a few kids in different ways, and again I have a box of muesli bars in my supermarket trolley each week for just this. Because if kids are in poorer communities, even with their teachers being heroes, they just don’t get them same levels of achievement.

 

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Image source

And again, there have been an increasing number of articles (here, here,…) about students unable to participate in sports teams and school activities because the cost is out of reach. I’m sure there are others. And it is awesome that the community rallied around these boys so they could get the money, but it does mask the fact that the family is living in poverty. And there are many families like this, who simply can not offer their kids the opportunities they ‘deserve’ because of cost.

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Image source

Recently I had another conversation about what was important in education. And how all the various ‘facets’ involved all probably think they are the only ones doing the right thing. Teachers are accused of moaning about conditions and pay scales – really we don’t care about the kids. Senior leadership in schools care about budgets and stats – really they don’t care about the kids. Board of Trustees care about the schools reputation and ERO reports – really they don’t care about the kids. The Ministry of Education is accused of cutting any and all costs – really they don’t care about the kids. The Ministry of vulnerable children is accused of meaningless paperwork and bureaucracy – really they don’t care about at risk kids in our schools.

But really, EVERYONE on of these departments/agencies/groups cares about the kids. Maybe they are looking through a different lens, but everyone cares. Everyone is being a hero in their own way, and we don’t always work very well together, or even look through the same lens, that often.

And teachers are leaving. Admit it or not, teachers are leaving in the profession. This is an article from 2002, so this is not new news! New teachers don’t stay, teachers are ‘burning’ out, teachers are leaving for overseas or for jobs in educational companies. At times, there have been too many teachers trained and so those teachers can’t get jobs and left. We are training less teachers than we did. Schools are being forced to use distance learning or change their options because teachers can’t be found. The much quoted ‘average’ age of teachers is in the mid to late 50s. Teachers are coming back from retirement to fill gaps (again, teachers stepping up to save the day!) because there are not the graduates coming through in the ‘right’ areas.

So then the really hard question is how to we break out of this heroic model. Because, by being heroic, teachers and schools are possibly limiting the ability of their students and communities to be empowered. By picking up the slack are we masking other issues of dependancy in the community? Are we slowly contributing to the falling status of our profession, and the reporting around teaching in New Zealand would be enough to put most people off opting into teaching as a profession?

By doing our utmost, are we actually doing harm?

It isn’t a nice thought, and it is one I am struggling with. By teachers and schools shouldering these additional burdens, are we doing more harm than good? If we keep saving the day, will the underlying causes never be address? Or is this the way it is now, and the gulf between the haves and the have nots will get wider and wider, and the champions will get fewer and fewer as they burn into cinders and ash.

And then, according to my favourite current heroine, Katniss Everdeen, fire is catching. How do we get those burnt out teachers back to roaring flames? How can we ensure we get new growth?

 

 

 

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings

Reflections from the PPTA ICT meeting and the TELA laptop scheme

On Friday, I was in Wellington for the PPTA ICT committee meeting. As usual, it was a full on day, leaving home to be at the airport by 5:50am is always fabulous, and then I got home a little after 9pm. As usual, these are my interpretations of what was said, and I am happy to be corrected if I got something wrong.

This time was a little different, and I am celebrating a beginning. A small beginning, but a beginning and a success of sorts. After all, there are so many non events, that even the smallest glimmer of hope needs to be celebrated 🙂

The TELA laptop scheme and centralised purchasing.

For some context, for a while I had been concerned about the lack of access some teachers have to good PD, and fit for purpose devices. As I blogged about recently, the digital divide is not just effecting students. I pondered on how best to make a change to this – realistically, what was the best way to make an impact I could think of. So in late 2015 I approached my local PPTA branch with concerns I had around the access to ‘fit for purpose’ devices for teachers. I felt that the TELA laptop scheme was not meeting the changing need of educators and learners. I made it an equity issue so that it could be realistically within the unions range of activities. They listened sympathetically, and suggested two options 1) propose a conference paper and 2) write a letter to the ICT committee. So I wrote my letter in early 2016 (March), and wrote a ‘blog’ for the PPTA magazine and this BLOG, and hoped some-one was listening.

I was invited to attend the ICT meeting where TELA was coming to talk about the scheme in June 2016, and it was a massively eye opening experience. (You can read about my impressions HERE) The way the different departments manage/run different facets of education is quite astounding, and it is a very complicated web of trying to figure out who is responsible for what, on top of what can be mandated, central purchased, or what is considered impinging on a schools right to be self governing. I then applied and became the ICT rep for Otago Southland, and have been to 2 meetings so far this year (reflections from the first are HERE) and on friday.

Amongst a whole lot of other things that were talked about, the representatives from TELA said they were looking at updating/changing the scheme, and thanked us for our input, asked for more, and said they were asking for other interested parties input too.

Which is massive. MASSIVE. I felt like a landslide…. there is still so much to do, but the first stones might just have started tumbling. Even if it would have happened anyway, even if there are others (and I’m sure their must be) pushing it along, I might have got somewhere.

So of course I will keep kicking up a stink 🙂

My notes for the rest of the meeting where not anywhere good enough as I floated in some sort of ‘did that really just happen’ cloud.

Other items on the agenda for TELA were central purchasing of software – specifically plagarism software for schools. With the increase in digital assessment submission, just blindly copying and pasting is easier (to quote someone from round the table – at least you used to have to take the time to copy it out by hand….). It is a really delicate balance – if the ministry purchases software central, it can be seen as a) endorsing the software and b) telling schools what to do. As much as I hate being told what to do myself, if there was a central purchase of software it could save schools MASSIVE amounts. So it is still being thought about, the but the ever increasing squeeze for funding, and the rapid change in pace of technology, and that for a lot of software (eg photoshop) you no longer buy the software, but a LICENCE it is a growing concern.

SLANZA

SLANZA is the group for school librarians in NZ, and it is fair to say many of them are having a pretty tough time. Yes, the role of libraries is changing, but it is still a really important part of any community, including schools. Bought up during the discussion was the reminder that often libraries are not just for learning, they are safe spaces for cohorts of kids. And librarians are pretty kick arse people, who are deeply passionate and skilled. I also had no idea it was not compulsory for a school to have a library, it is up to individual boards. So it a really sad thing to hear that so many schools are closing their libraries to try and squeeze budgets and find spaces.

COOLS

COOLS seem to have been less in the news of late, but they are still simmering away in the background. ‘New’ cools will not be operational until at least 2020 as they need to be regulated (I asked why…. because students need to be enrolled in a school till they are 16 there needs to be processes in place to track this). There are still loads of questions around costs, platforms, quality and pastoral care, but despite these questions things are continuing to roll along.

DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES 

There was some interesting, and at times quite technical, discussion around the digital technology curriculum changes, and I think there are a few people working REALLY REALLY hard in the background on this. I’m a little bit gutted (as I have mentioned before) that the assessment was the starting point, and that the Level one Achievement standards are going to be rolled out next year while there is still no curriculum goals (or learning progressions as they are going to be called) for the junior school. I did go full ‘out there’ at this point and question why so much time and energy was being invested in these ‘qualifications’ when 1) digi tech moves incredibly fast, would they be defunct in 2-3 years anyways and 2) when the head of NZQA goes on record saying the future of education is not assessments, why are we still doing them?????? Which I off course believe, but it did divert from the discussion somewhat.

There are also going to be issues around training for staff, what will happen to the ‘unit standards’ and is there still a need for word processing type courses….. as well as cost. The comment was made their had been a massive effort to ensure $500 robot kits were NOT a requirement – but then if you are using a $15 arduino you do need a bit more skill level.

So the jury is still out in my head about this – HUGE potential but also lots of unanswered questions.

Other stuff

There was some general discussion around the cost of professional learning and how some staff are feeling pressure (real or imagined) to gain a master qualification. This is NOT a requirement, yet some schools/areas represented did comment that it was an important consideration for them when employing new staff. The issue of PLD funding is (again) a complex one, and just where the responsibility sits is confusing.

There was also discussion linked to many things around support in schools for teachers. Schools can be very heirachy based, and often those doing the grunt work do not get the best devices/classrooms/timetables. Linked to this, in some subjects, access to PD and/or money hungry resources is impacting students ability to achieve – an example was sound quality in media studies impacting the overall production.

So yeah, another really informative and busy day. Lots of ideas, lots of productive discussion, and a nice reminder that there is hope.

Thanks

And I do need to thank some people, who advised, supported, critique and listened as I started out on this ‘vendetta’ to get better access for teachers to fit for purpose devices and PLD. MY PPTA rep Alister MacDonald, the local Otago branch, Tom Haig (who helped me understand how processed work and to be patient), Lynette O’Brien who is a real workhorse and also incredibly patient, and the whole ICT committee for being so passionate and interested (and for tolerating my ‘out there’ comments). And also my family for listening to me rant and storm, and supporting my with the hours I’ve poured in, and to me critical friends, especially Nikkie, for helping me find the language I don’t always have access to which helps explain to other why this is so important for our teachers and learners. And thanks too to those who have followed along reading my blogs, got in touch when they have seen the articles in the magazine etc. Hopefully it makes a positive impact for the teachers out there – I’ll keep fighting for it. Kia Kaha teachie friends.

Posted in Professional learning, Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

Move over classroom, Teams is coming to town

I have really enjoyed Microsoft classroom, and school had been enjoying a high rate of uptake from staff and students. Despite a few teething problems that any new system will have, the roll out school wide as a learning management system had been successful. Some departments or individuals decided that OneDrive suited their needs or tasks better, while others opted to stick with Office 365 groups that they set up last year. But most are using Microsoft classroom as an LMS, and it has worked really well. So I did have a feeling of dismay when I heard that classroom was being replaced by Microsoft Teams – or more specifically Microsoft Teams for Educations. But after having a play, and seeing a couple of demonstrations, I am certainly feeling brighter about the prospect of unveiling Teams to my staff, and there are certainly some exciting new features that will really boost the classroom performance and adaptability of Teams EDU. For now, I am just itching to get my hands on the teams EDU to have a play around myself.

If you want to find out more, you can do so HERE

To kick start the process of upskilling myself, I have had a play with the teams app. As a ‘place’ for almost everything 365, it automatically grabbed events from calendar, files from onedrive, and it was easy to create new teams and add members.

 

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Calendar events showed up in the meetings tabs – I’m hopefully that maybe the EDU version will have a different ‘language’ as not all events on my calendar are meetings. Still, it is very convient to have everything in the one place.

 

 

 

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Files has access to all recent files, as well as Onedrive

 

 

 

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It is super easy to add apps into the teams environment – and you can see there is a massive variety of apps too

 

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The mobile app is also pretty solid, the files tab goes straight to recent files. I was a little dissapointed the calendar tab was missing from the mobile app – it would be nice to have all of the pieces together in one place.

 

So my initial verdict on teams was that is was positive but it felt VERY corporate. It looked to be a useful app for personal use, but to be honest, I wasn’t super sold on it as a classroom replacement.

And then I saw a preview of Teams EDU via the surface expert call and on a Microsoft call which went into a bit more detail. It is fair to say I was blown away by the additional features – although still not quite sold on the names 🙂

Some vital stats are listed below – the summer referred to below is of course the Northern Hemisphere summer, I am REALLY hopefully NZ gets this in winter to try out before our new school year starts in Feb 2018.

edu features

The following pics are either screen grabs from the call or from the MEC site. Because I still don’t have access to Teams EDU, I’ll have to make do with explaining the demos’s I’ve seen.

Highlight ONE – INKING

So, firstly Teams EDU comes with a classnotebook, that will be populated via the data sync. In fact, all class ‘teams’ will be populated this way. This is a massive tick from me, as it saves considerable time for all teachers, and because it is done for them, it really does increase update of use. The Classnotebook looks great, and the fact that it opens within the team environment is another tick – it saves leaping from tab to tab. And the ability to ink right in teams – will that is just lovely 🙂

 

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Assignments and Planners

These don’t quite get a highlight status, but they looked practical and a little more ‘friendly’ than the assignments tab in classroom. The ability for students to add activities or assign tasks to planner also looked like it could be an excellent tool for increasing learner agency and/or chunking larger assignments into smaller tasks for students.

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Students (and teachers) can easily keep tabs on what assignments are coming up, and teachers can mark them in the teams environment.

 

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I liked the look of the planner feature – giving kids agency to plan out their tasks and plan their activities looks awesome.

HIGHLIGHT TWO – KAHOOT

This really was a massive selling point for me, and I’m pretty sure it will help me sell the change from classroom to teams to the staff at my school. The ability to embed a kahoot app into the team environment, and play it right there looked pretty sweet. As did the ability to have a chat window open, so students can still ask questions or give feedback as they go.

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Kahoot is an example of the apps that are available to be added in to the teams EDU environment. The demo list of apps was not as extensive as the list I could add to my generic team space – not sure if this was due to it being a preview, or a deliberate restriction of apps. I suspect the IT admin will be able to control the apps available within teams EDU (but don’t quote me on that). The presenter on the call also said Microsoft will continue working with partners and this list could keep expanding. The apps all stay within the teams environment, and show up as an additional tab across the top.

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Teacher spaces

Also within teams is a ‘Teacher Space’, which looks a bit like a PLG group from office groups. There looked to be a very nice power BI dashboard that could work really well for data analysis. There was also space for shared planning, resources, readings, and a cool meet now feature where you can ‘skype’ within the team environment to have a virtual meeting. As someone who does a lot of work from home once the small person is asleep in a department with similar people, I can see this being a useful feature (as well as a possible great distraction!!)

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So over all I am really hopefully that teams will deliver on the promises. And that it will be similar enough to classroom and groups that I will be able to assist teacher become confident users without too much trouble. The really big highlights for me were the inking and the app (kahoot) integration. And that it looks like the SDS process will be similar – getting the data out of KAMAR (our SMS) is still going to be a significant task, but a doable one for a good end result. If your an admin person, there is some good info HERE

A last piece of info – if you have set up classroom in your school, the handy chart below explains what will happen to things stored in their. The bottom point is probably the most important – make sure you have those grades back up!! The chart below came from HERE which has some useful info on the changes from classroom to Teams.

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So, all in all, I’m feeling pretty positive about teams. The name is a little corporate, and will possibly be the hardest sell with teachers. But the way it works looks really good. Bring on 2018 🙂

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

I reckon you do this for the fun of it….

Right now it is 6:43 am and I am on a plane on my way to Wellington for the PPTA ICT meeting. I should be prepping (actually I should be sleeping) by reading all the info that has been sent to us that I hadn’t quite got to yet, and instead I am reflecting on something one of my students said to me yesterday.

You know Miss, I reckon sometimes you do this job just for the fun of it.

 

And I reckon she is right. And it was just what I needed to hear right then

 

For some context, this week has been madness. My hubby has had events on in the evening (bless toy library committee meetings and that he goes, I have ZERO tolerance for such examples of ‘engaged’ parenting), we have people from out of town coming by (and my house was not even good friend coming round not tidy, it was I can’t stand it disaster), sickness seems to have over taken the whole of Dunedin and I’ve been asked to do little bits if internal relief, reports are due (and who doesn’t love report writers block). I’ve had 2 after school meetings, plus one I just didn’t get to. Today I am in Wellington, so I had to set relief, get my reports done early (so staying up late to get them done…) and then be up at ridiculous o’clock to catch a plane. And yesterday I made time to pick up some extra glassware my students needed for the 3.1 Internal we are doing the practical for next week, and head into another school in Dunedin to have a looksy at how they are using Calendars as Kevin, Lyndon and I plot around updating our calendar and what we need it to do.

An upshot of going into the uni was I also picked up some dry ice for a student having their ‘class act’ photo shoot. (they asked for a chem text book, and I was like bugger that….let me find something better)(as another aside, Otago Uni and Dave Warren are so so so so awesomesauce for the support they offer for teachers and schools). So I had some ‘extra’ dry ice, and pulled it out at the end of a lesson on chemical reactions. Chemical reactions is a great Level one internal because there are loads of practicals, and so we had just finished burning sulfur in oxygen (you get an amazing purple flame) and steel wool in oxygen. The kids had gotten right into the gas jars, and using the fume hood to get rid of the sulfur dioxide gas (It really smells) and then when I pulled out the dry ice to ‘play’ with for the last 10 minutes they were over the moon. And at the end of the lesson, as I was struggling to get a beaker frozen to the desk off, and telling kids to stop pointing film canister ‘bombs’ at each other (they don’t fly very far, or very fast, but still, safety first) this kid came out with that.

I think it is easy to forget in a week where reports are due, when you need to pull extra activities or presentations out of no-where, when you are writing relief and preparing for field trips and writing proposals and and and……. that most of the time, teaching is really really fun. Young people are so full of energy, even when they creatively hide it in morose teenage angst. I am so lucky that the young people I work with (and the old ones too) mean that I have fun most days. And then my wee man, and the big one too, are mostly fun at home too. Even if the lego is starting to take over the house and we have ‘issues’ getting Mr 4 dressed in the morning.

It also what struck me is that this student didn’t quite know if it was a good thing that I did my job for ‘fun’. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on what students think work should be, or what fun should be, or if she just thinks I’m totally bonkers, or a mixture of all three. I still have this ‘issue’ of students not thinking they have ‘learned’ in my class, either because they have not written anything done, or because really they feel like they have just been playing around.

I think it also comes down to resilience. I find challenges fun, I like working on solutions, and the aha moments when ideas click into place. But of course challenges need to be achievable, or they can be overwhelming and motivation runs screaming. So something I want to think about in my classroom is around building the aspect of fun into failure and challenges and that you can learn that way. I’m not quite sure I even have the ideas right in my head about these two things link together, but pondering it this morning has given me a wee kickstart into being more explicit on the benefits of having a play and having fun.

And maybe, just maybe, this kid will see that you can be’ good’ at your job, be passionate about your job and have fun too – and she will find a job that allows her to do both.

Posted in Uncategorized

The price of eggs…. the digital divide is not just the kids

I had an epiphany of sorts this morning doing the grocery shopping as I was considering eggs. I always go free range (but since I started working really….. in fact eggs are still something of a luxury to me), and as I was comparing prices this morning I realised how lucky I am to able to do to so. Living in Dunedin on a ‘just’ a teacher wage and a partner working in a similarly paid job to me, I have it a lot better than a lot of my colleagues who get the same wage for the same work and pay a LOT more to live. However, my school does not have this luxury. I had been wallowing in self pity after having a proposal for some funding to attend a conference segwayed into probably not being able to go. I was really disappointed, frustrated, a bit down and plotting how I could scrimp and save to get myself there (I had already offered to pay the flights anyway) and looking at the eggs this morning it really hit me that not all schools, and therefore not all kids, can afford ‘free range’.

To resolve my school of blame, they did suggest a really thoughtful alternative. (After a wine, I was even more ‘pissy’ about this, as it meant I couldn’t even be cross with them, they really are trying to support what I wanted to learn about. Which I am very thankful for. But the reality is, we are on a budget and the money just isn’t there.) And sadly, I can’t get to the alternative as it clashes with another trip.

And really, I got to go the E2 exchange in Toronto (thanks Microsoft for paying for me!!) and I did go to Energise in Queenstown (thank Cyclone for paying my conference fee and accomodation – I picked up the gas tab) so I have had some AMAZING PLD this year already. I am doing some EdEX courses, and of course chipping away on the Microsoft Educator Community, and I have put my name down for the Mindlab course running. I also hosted the scichatNZ teachmeet session, and got loads out of that. So I am doing some learning. And perhaps I just shouldn’t be so entitled!!!!!

I then wondered why the conference cost so much ($499+GST) for 2 days. The alternative offered was $150+GST for one day. I know you need to pay for speakers to attend, venue hire, possibly a meal, food for participants etc. But on top of this cost for schools is transport and relief, and the time for the people sorting everything.

It sums up why I LOVE twitter, #edchatNZ, why I started #scichatNZ with Matty and co, why I make an effort for #teachmeetNZ and why I do as many free courses online as I can. I know that there are loads of teacher like me, who’s schools can’t afford it, or won’t make that ‘out there’ conference a priority, and there are definitely teachers who don’t even know that there are free PLD options out there. I wish wish wish I could have gotten time to go to the EdchatNZ conference…. but at the time I couldn’t stretch for flights myself. But I love the unconference idea, and making PD more accessible to EVERYONE.

But as I sit now, closing the door on what could have been some pretty cool learning, some awesome Korero with some amazing educator peeps and also a nice trip, I am frustrated that the doors to learning are still being closed. And not just on our kids. I am confident that there are loads of teachers out there who have been turned down for funding for PLD this year…. and maybe some like me who sat down and worked out that if I put this money here, and that money there, maybe I can fund myself. I seem to remember some-one started a go fund me type thing to get to a conference once. It is also what drove me to the PPTA ICT committee, trying to find away to ensure teachers get access to devices fit for purpose for their teaching, and the support to use them. To many schools and teachers are held to ransom over device choice by cost, and teacher just get handed a new device with no help in how to use it.

And then you go to the supermarket and find yourself thinking if I don’t buy free range eggs, I could put that extra $3 towards my flights. And you have to do what the school does, and prioritise what is important to you.

Just like if the school doesn’t pay my $500 conf fee, the could put it towards something else. Like breakfasts for our kids that don’t have them. Or the power bill. Or Or Or Or Or. And it is tax payers money after all.

But will this keep us in a ‘battery’ style teaching philosphy, while other schools are allowing their kids to be free range. No-one think battery eggs are better, but they sure are cheaper. So what other costs are our underfunded school schools having…..? It isn’t just the students wings we are clipping…..

And how can we break free if we can’t even sit at the table where the discussions are taking place?

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

‘That’ class… and no I don’t want a seating plan

I am a little ashamed to say that this year I have a ‘that’ class. The class I can’t seem to get to work. Despite careful planning, talking it through with my HoD and their year level dean, trying a few different things like shifting furniture or even classrooms, they are still ‘that’ class. The class I almost dread some days, the class I get frustrated with, the class I feel like I am being the least effective in, the class were I feel like I am so busy dealing with 1/3 of the class I just forget the other 2/3s…. the class I just haven’t got to gel yet.

It is a hard problem, and one I have been pondering – this class works ‘best’ when I have more ‘structure’. When I chunk tasks into 20 minute blocks, have the whole class writing quietly from the board, when I STRONGLY control practical tasks. I have ‘learned’ not to do practicals with them on a last period if I can help it. They all work quietly when doing tasks like cutting and pasting pieces of paper, or colouring things in, or wordfinds …. but then I lose the ‘spark’ – despite the ‘crazy’, this class can think.

And then I read the first two paragraphs and go there it a whole lot of ‘I’ in there. What is the class (that I am a part of) going to do to make our time together work better??

Among the ponderings around this is….

1) Why did I/do I resort to ‘structured’ traditional tasks for this class?

This answer is partly due to all of the advice I received when I was trying to talk through the issues I was having. Have you tried a seating plan is almost always the first thing anyone says. (I teach them in a ‘new lab’, so the tables often move anyway, but also NO, I want them to be in an environment that is comfortable for them and suits the task). Then it goes onto something like do you have a set routine? Do you have a settling activity?

Then it goes into if they work quietly while taking notes of the board, then why not give them notes off the board? And then I want to burn everything to the ground.

But also, the students like writing notes of the board – the quiet, diligent kids think this is what learning should look like, and the ‘anxious’ kids know nothing is going to be asked of them but mindless copying, and the ‘troublesome’ kids just draw pictures in their books. And I can use the ‘discipline referral system’ if I need to (and I have needed to….) Happy classrooms right.

Sigh

So for anyone reading – next time some-one asks about a difficulty in their class, please don’t ask if they have a seating plan 😉

2) How can the classroom expectations be made clear and stuck to.

As a class we have had some discussion around what we think is acceptable and not acceptable for learning. The class are actually surprisingly harsh on themselves when it comes to what they expect…. perhaps tying into them thinking that learning is writing in silence….

So changing that mindset while also maintaining security is a big challenge

The other challenge is managing responses to behaviour. How do you ignore unwanted behaviours? I think I speak for every teacher (or I hope I do) that sometimes it only takes that one kid to throw a whole lesson out of whack because of the response it generates. So how can those responses (including my own) be changed to support a better classroom culture.

3) How I can ensure I don’t miss the 2/3s of the class while dealing with the 1/3?

Because right now I know I am not being the best teacher I can be for that 2/3s. But I don’t quite know how to get around that. How do I ensure I provide fun, engaging, authentic learning for them, while ‘managing’ the other 1/3. Short answer is I can’t…. so how can I get it to be everyones job while still ensuring the get the support they need.

And why am I having to manage the others?? Why are the so disengaged from what we do?

 

An added challenge to this class is I have them for 2 hours a week. It is proving to be very challenging to build the type of relationships I would like in this 2 hours. And a kind colleague saying ‘well, you can suck it up for 2 hours a week, just don’t worry about it’ was not super helpful either…..

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The class loved drawing with chalk outside rather than in their books.

And today, when we did a slightly different activity, despite the noise, the disruption and the non-participants, there was some really good learning going on. Kids had learned some things. I am clinging to that glimmer of hope…. a gossamer thin glimmer at times, but still there….

So I am going to keep thinking, and keep trying with ‘that’ class. For the kids that keep trying to meet me half way. And for the kids that don’t too….

 

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Revision tools

Today in my yr 10 class we are doing some revision for an upcoming summative assessment on Monday. We still do paper tests… sigh. But practice makes perfect right 🙂 So as a class we were talking about some different ways we can do revision, and I think we came up with some pretty good ideas – and I hopefully got the idea across that just reading and rereading ‘notes’ is a passive way to learn and that trying to find more active revision activities has much more benefit.

Some of the ideas we came up with were

Make a podcast and listen to it; Make posters and make them your phone wallpaper; practice questions; use flashcards and get a friend/family to test you; kahoot quiz (this class LOVED kahoot quizes for learning electrical component names); writing notes over and over; writing notes and then trying to write them again from memory and then filling in the gaps and trying again; online animations like PHeT; youtube videos; mind maps and graphic organisers; making acronyms or rhymes…..

Which I thought was a pretty good list really – and I was super stoked that no-one said highlighting. (still had the writing notes in there… but baby steps…)

To try and have a new take on writing notes, I suggested little books. I really don’t make these enough – But I think they are a great way to get lots of ideas condensed into a small space, and almost force people to process the notes they are writing. The are low tech, low cost, and meet the needs of the students who NEED notes while still not just being copy stuff straight down because there is not enough space (some still just right REALLY REALLY small though……)

To make a little book, all you need to do is take a piece of paper, like an A4, and fold it in half and in half again.

Then fold it in half long ways (or just fold it so you have 8 folds 🙂 )

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Then cut the middle fold

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Then fold it up, the trick is to have the ‘connected’ bits on opposite sides.

And then you have a little book that you can make notes into. I encouraged kids that liked them to make on for each topic – then when it comes time for the end of year exam, they will already have a good start on some revision material. Girls in particular seem to like them, but even a couple of the boys gave them a go today.

 

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings

Ponderings from #energiseNZ2017

In the holidays, I went to the ENERGISE conference (A while back, Arnika Macphail asked me if I’d be keen to present at Energise, and I was like ‘hell yeah’. Then she asked if I’d like to co-present with Steve Mouldey, who I had never yet meet in the flesh and I was like ‘HELL YEAH’). Energise had a Educamp feel, so while the presenters were set, it was not about the ‘big names’ and more about the connections, ideas and challenges. While it was acknowledged that Cyclone was behind the conference, the team did a great job of not making it about things to ‘buy’. It was being hosted at Shotover Primary, so it was a good chance to visit a ‘new’ school and gain some insight into how it works. I had an amazing time, caught up with people, meet some new people, learned some new things, got challenged to ensure I was not just using ‘e-learning’ to engage student but to enhance their learning and was challenged around am I doing enough for my students.

Another interesting moment for me was during the ‘drum’ session. We had a really fun and amazing drum session on the second morning of the conference. I was sitting with 4 of my favourite educator peeps and laughed so hard. But it reinforced a funny idea for me. Do we really all need to be in time? Do we really need to be conforming to the same beat? I’ve been told I am reading to much into this type of activity… but I just wonder. So then of course it turned into us being ‘naughty’ and whacking the drum next to us out of time….. do we sometimes need to break those ‘rules’ to start something new?

BUT mostly energise got me thinking we really do need to change how we approach professional learning/development for teachers.

The pondering around changing PD has really stemmed from about 4 sources that were building before the conference, but these really bought it to my attention.

  1. Presenting with some-one you have never meet

I meet Steve for the first time the night before – drinking warm Sake in a (very nice) Japanese restaurant watching ‘magic’ tricks.

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That said, I have ‘talked’ with Steve loads online (As it turned out, this was a great way to introduce our session – a genuine we meet online gag 🙂 )We were given the brief ‘ Creating a STEAMULATING environment’ and were then basically left to our own devices on what to present.

We set up some collaborative docs (funnily enough a MICROSOFT OneNote and the GOOGLE slides…), had a skype and some twitter chats, and it just came together. I think (hope) because we were both open minded, coming from slightly different places and experiences, but willing to let these ideas be shared and compliment each other, rather than drowning each other out.

And despite my nerves, the presentation went pretty well I think. I’m not confident we ‘nailed’ it, but we definitely got some good discussion going, engaged our group, warmed up as it went on, and tried to avoid ‘us telling, them listening. Although we did still fall into the trap of saying what we did…. instead of listening to all the voices

As always with presenting, I benefit enormously by trying to explicitly describe what I am trying to achieve for my learners and myself – it is hard to put into words some times. And having another person to bounce idea off, especially from another school and ‘a different silo’ was especially helpful. So presenting with some-one I had never meet was a completely new experience for me, and I feel I learned loads. Which makes me think about ‘groups’ of teachers going to PLD – do we really get the same benefit if we only really talk to people from our schools rather than pushing ourselves to incorporate different points of views.

The reason I don’t feel I/we nailed it is because I wasn’t sure/confident we meet our learners expectations. Some people seemed to enjoy the discussion, while others seemed to want more from us – I don’t like the term spoon feeding but I do think some teachers expect this at PLD. Which leads into point number

2. What do teachers expect from PD?

The second day of the conference I went to a session that Steve ran on bringing empathy into learning conversations. He talked about how teachers see PLD, and loosely categorised teachers into some PLD stereotypes. As part of this, we were sent to ‘spy on/observe’ other sessions and see what we could see. And the stereotypes were there – Steve had outlined in his talk some in his talk, and I’ve added a couple

the teacher who wants something they can use in their class on monday

the teacher who came for morning tea

the teacher who came to meet and talk to people and build connections but is not really into the sessions

the teacher having an AHA moment

the teacher who obviously doesn’t want to be there

the teacher who is taking so many notes they couldn’t possibly be processing them, it is just verbatim. Will they ever look at those notes again

the teachers tweeting (usually me….)

the teacher catching up on emails.

the teacher obviously in presenter rapture and having a professional crush moment

 

All of which reinforced times when I have been in PD (honestly, I have been all the teachers above and more) and when I have delivered PD. The stand up the front and talk at people model doesn’t really work. And yet, we are still doing it. Which leads to point 3….

3. Why, oh why, do presenters still sit behind a laptop, sitting at a desk, talking their way through their slides..????

I went to a session like this, and could not cope. The person presenting obviously knew there stuff, and I had a great discussion with them afterwards that almost made up for the presentation. But it was so so so so so hard to sit through that 2 hours of slog. It felt like a slog. Even though I was learning new things, and interested at some points, the rest of the time I switched off.

We have learned that this is not working in our classrooms. Surely we should have learned that it doesn’t work for PLD.

And surely we as teacher should expect and demand more. Which leads me to point 4..

4. Why do ‘some’ teachers still expect PLD on a plate?

This constantly annoys me. I always try and make the most out of any opportunities that are provided to me. So I pay for my own PLD sometimes. I buy books and read them. I read blogs and talk to people. I also apply to different places for funding, and really make an effort to get to free stuff (I will drive to Christchurch for the educamp in Term 3 for example.) I also make use of free PLD on line – there are loads of MOOCs, courses, youtube videos, and of course the microsoft educator community (and the google one).

So I do get a bit pissy when people say to me, oh, you were at another conference. I go to them because I choose to, I often self fund, and I value them. Probably because of this, I have had several awesome opportunities to attend conferences paid for by other people. And if I got to those, I make sure I work every damn minute to get the most out of it for me and for the people attending. It is also why I started scichatNZ (along with Matt and the team) because I was frustrated at the lack of support for Science teachers wanting to break the mould….. and almost talked myself out of a ‘job’ when I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t want there to be subject silo’s….. sigh

So I do get hot and bothered when people attend PLD paid for out of precious school budgets and either 1) don’t get quality or 2) don’t put an effort in. 2 very different problems, but with a similar outcome – professional learning goes on the back burner as too hard, too much time, too expensive for what you get……

Changing the culture around staff professional learning in many schools is a challenge I don’t see going away any time soon, despite the efforts of many outstanding educators out there to change that mould.

So all in all I had an amazing time at Energise, and am really thankful for the opportunity to attend and share. It was definitely a ‘different’ type of teacher conference and I hope we see more of them in the future – I’m already looking forward to energise 2018.

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Thanks heaps to the team at Shotover for sharing you school, and the team at Cyclone for hosting us 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in random ramblings

Why do we still have cracks?

It is an easy answer isn’t it – a kid falling through the cracks. They didn’t fit that criteria, or that criteria, and they somehow got missed. Or they refused this help, or this consequence, or they moved to a new school (or a new home…) and didn’t get followed up on. There is insufficient funds for government departments, schools get there hands tied, teacher can only do so much.

But why why why do we still have kids falling through these cracks?

I read this story in STUFF today about vulnerable children going hungry during the holidays as schools weren’t open to feed them and wanted to scream. Then I sobbed. This is one gap that schools can fill (for some, some of the time, I know we feed some kids at my school) and yet it can’t be there all of the time.

I am currently ‘processing’ my own personal disappointment (and bitterness I suppose, I can’t quite figure out exactly how I feel about it) around a student who has been ‘lost’. I doubt I will see them at school again, yet 8 weeks ago they were engaging in a conversation around what was needed to get university entry. I know the Dean is still bending over backwards to try and get them involved in school. I know there are other school people and outside agencies involved. I know this student made some poor choices and that there does need to be some action around those…..

I know this student has no internet access at home, so they won’t get emails, they won’t get work set online, they can’t access the learning. They won’t know I have sent some work because I feel so damn helpless to help even though I know they can’t check it. I worry they think no-one cares despite the fact that there have been multiple efforts…

I heard another student had a baby over the holidays. ‘Maybe it will be the making of her’ we said round the lunch table, hopeful (and some-what resigned). She ended up in a situation no-one should – she too fell through the cracks. What could we have done? we asked ourselves. What could we do now? Rightly or wrongly, I will contribute to a care package with some baby clothes and a hand knitted/crocheted something. Hopefully they will know that we at least cared.

When I think back to my first form class as my new school, 3 and a bit years ago, perhaps half are still in education. It was a challenging class, and not just because I was new to the school and had taught in a very different environment. That class really opened my eyes to how lucky many of us are. And yet, it was a mostly fun time, especially for terms 3 & 4 once I got it figured out that I just needed to like them and work on relationships and most of the rest would sort itself out. I remember how delighted I was when one of them casually mentioned in passing last year while I was on duty by the canteen that they had passed Level one NCEA. That whole it isn’t a big deal Miss, when it clearly was.

Some of that class have got jobs, and this really is a good option for most of them – although I think some have been ‘forced’ or coerced into work earlier than they might have chosen I guess due to family circumstances. I can’t help wonder if I knew then what I know now (mostly thanks to me trying to figure out how to engage them in education) would they have faired better? Or was it already too late? Or would I have engaged them more, but the outcome would still have been the same.

One kid falling through a crack is too many, and I question that if it is like this at my school (a very nice decile 7 school with pretty cool kids and community for the most part) is it like this everywhere? Is it worse? Why are we still not talking about it and closing the gaps creating these cracks for the kids to fall into to.

And how can I change this? What could I have done? What can I do now? What needs to be done?

For now I am angry. Angry that this is happening to kids I care about. Kids that deserved more. Kids that made some dumb choices, but then doesn’t everyone….???

Why are there still cracks for people to fall into?

 

 

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Reflections from the April PPTA ICT meeting

(Please note – these musings are my own thoughts, and while I have done my best to accurately portray what was said, they are my interpretations and I have possibly misheard or misrepresented. Please get in touch if I have. I am happy to provide any more info, or put you in touch with people who might know, if you would like any more information. And I am really happy to take any concerns, questions or success stories you have to this forum)

Friday April 7 took me to Wellington for the first PPTA ICT meeting for the year. This group of the PPTA meets 3 times a year, as well as e-mail correspondence in between times, to took over any ICT issues that PPTA members may have, or to provide a sounding board for various agencies, government departments etc. It is a varied committee, with representatives from all the different regions, PPTA exec and field officers, Te Kura, low decile etc. On top of that, it seemed that everyone’s school was using a slightly different system or had a different policy, so I think the group is reasonably representative, even if they are not able to gather voices from lots of places (I know from my brief experience on this committee of 8 weeks that it is hard to get your voice out there)

The agenda was as follows

Round robin – using a shared doc, each member highlighted key issues or ideas relevant to them. It was a great way to get a lot of information and ideas out quickly. The points that I picked up were

  • Online moderation – how do we get files to NZQA? What about large files, or ‘fussy’ files like garageband?
  • SMS compatibility is still a large issue in some schools – sharing information a challenge
  • Wireless access in schools is still an issue – N4L gets to the gate, but the infrastructure isn’t always within the school.
  • Still concerns with teachers not keeping themselves safe in online environments – digital citizenship is not just for students.

TELA – representatives came from TELA to again talk about device choices in schools for staff. This is an ongoing issue for me, having initially raised it last year and I have learned a lot more about it, as well as learning more at the meeting and being reminded that TELA is NOT responsible for staff PLD!! It would seem that the issue around equitable devices for teachers is a multi headed hydra of regulation, funding and departments.

 

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I am not a great sketch artist, but this was my sketch in my notes during the TELA discussion – lots of different challenges to face around getting equitable device access for NZ teachers

 

That said, the contract renewal process is underway, so it is a good time for them to be talking with us. Some basic stats – TELA has over 47,000 laptops in the scheme, 99% of schools in NZ (27 schools don’t and they don’t know why). Almost half of the devices are HP, with around 30% Apple and the rest Toshiba. Schools are FREE TO CHOOSE – but many staff in schools are not. There was an animated discussion around are teachers in school digitally literate enough to know what device would best suit their needs if they were given a choice, or would everyone just want ‘the best one’ regardless of how they used it. The flip argument being that ‘innovative’ teachers are being restricted by this policy, or (more often) an overworked IT admin is a school makes everyone the same because it makes their job easier. Ideas were mooted around allowing teachers to order there own devices, but this would make it hard for schools to budget around devices. There was also issues with the devices being tied to the school rather than the teacher when teacher changed schools – often staff will inherit a machine that may not be suitable to them but not have an option to renew for a year or 18 months.

And then there are some schools who charge teachers.

So it is a difficult issue. But an important one, and TELA are coming back, but I am thinking about others ways I can raise the device issue (and lack of training provided for devices given)

Update on Digital Technologies Curriculum – This again was an interesting discussion. It would seem the many schools are simply ignoring the update and the ministry has not yet answered the ‘compulsory’ aspect. However, there are roadmaps in place for digital tech Achievement standards, so it may well (sadly) be the cart that leads the horse in the curriculum strand implementation in schools – or a visit or scolding from ERO!!! There is confusion around digital fluency – what exactly is meant for this term. Also big concerns around infrastructure and staff PD. Sadly (In my opinion) there seems to be some resistance to this becoming a more academic subject as robotics or ‘ICT’ classes which are more about formatting word documents and secretarial skills are ‘dumping’ grounds for less able students. There are also concerns about ‘teachers’ to teach the courses – what PLD is available and how will schools access it. And of course, as nothing it being taking out of the curriculum, what will have less time if digital tech is bought in.

Personally, I think there is a need for these courses. In terms of junior school, it is not hard to incorporate some hour of code (or similar) into a course, a wee bit of robotics here and there, something small like a microbit could be incorporated in maths really easily – even just making a dice for ‘chance’. For seniors, there is more need for a specialist teacher, but more importantly teachers who are willing to learn along side their students, as many students are far more skilled than teachers know. I learned this last year with my yr 10s setting up a minecraft server – they left me far behind. Which was ok.

20/20 Trust

Stephen Carr came to talk to us about changes occurring – but many of them were confidential so I can’t talk about them here.

One thing that I can share is the spark jump modem. Which is a subsidised modem to help breach the digital divide. It is prepaid, doesn’t require a deposit or credit check, and could be really useful for families, or in situations like school kids going to stay with their grandparents for a short time, so rather than get a permanent internet connection you can get something like this.

BYOD resourcing  – There was a discussion around BYOD resourcing and how to manage this. Legally, schools can not insist that a device is part of a students stationary, as every student is entitled to a free education. Practically, this is a really difficult issue, as different schools and different deciles can (and do) have different policies, access and requirements. This lead to some interesting discussions around lots of side issues – for instance, some schools do not allow laptops to be charged at school as the power chords have not been safety tested. (I wondered about this for our school – I know all the ‘Science’ gear like hot plates and soldering irons get tested every year, but I don’t think laptops do….). Other issues, like WINZ will forward a payment so a family can buy a device on a stationary list, but not cover it.

And then there is the idea of what device specifications are ok. In a truely heart breaking discussion (fro my perspective) it appears that in a perfect example of the cart leading the horse, the device choice could be decide by the digital assessment requirements once digital assessment is online (2020 is still the aim I think). (I got a bit frustrated with this)

It again highlights the lack of training for staff and direction for schools – saying a school is BYOD is one thing, but implementing it and having staff well trained in both technical aspects as well as the big broad why do it is seemingly still very distant. I know myself I am guilty of using a digital textbook as a substitute rather than a transformative learning experience.

Cools update – was a slightly heated discussion – mostly based around the fact the online learning communities already exist and work very well. Why change them you ask??? I don’t know. (A really key idea I took from this was a move by ‘online educators’ to start calling their courses online learning, rather than ‘video conferencing’. VC is the tool, not the learning. I thought this a really subtle but important point.)

But it seems this idea is gathering steam and rolling on through. It seems clear the government wants COOLS to be regulated, there are accessibility issues (eg you need to have internet access, so it might immediately exclude students without this, either due to geographical location (I hadn’t thought about kids living on boats before…)or lack of funds). Who will staff them, who will attend them and how they will work is still up in the air I think.

Other random thoughts/ideas/news

There was a small amount of talk around SMS databases and SISI (student information sharing initiative) which all sounds like it is coming from the right place – although maybe limited to COLS. There was also some talk of RTLB teachers being linked to COLS also, but I am not sure where this comes from and/or when it would happening.

Teacher council criteria was briefly discussed – as always when you give examples there are some that seem to restrictive and some that seem to vague. But streamlining the criteria seems like a good idea to me – you can check it out yourself HERE and feedback (before April 21 2017) HERE

 

So it was a really interesting meeting for me personally, I have had a lot of thinking about it over the last few days, and I can see there is still a lot to do.

Again I welcome any comments, issues or ideas if you would like me to take them to this group, and again repeat that these are my own thoughts on the process and I am happy to be corrected or put you in touch with people if you like.