Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Guest Post: Clive Dawes On Scratching That 7 Year Itch

I had the pleasure of meeting Clive at a conference some months ago. We had been been connected through Twitter but not in person. Clive's work on gamification and learning was and remains an eye-opening set of ideas and they have, even now, almost a year later, influenced my teaching for the better.

Seven Ways to Scratch The Seven Year Itch.

Here’s the thing. After Christmas this will be the longest I’ve ever stayed in a job in my life.

My first job, fresh faced out of teacher training lasted 6 years and 1 term. My second job, not so fresh faced, lasted 6 years and 1 term. Notice a pattern developing? My third job, which in truth was a mixture of different consultancies and freelance work lasted 6 years and 2 terms.

My current role is in an Asian International School as a technology leader/ specialist/ facilitator/ integrator. Whatever the contract or job description says it’s out of date before the ink is dry (or the modern day equivalent).

I love my job. But, at the end of this term I will have been here for 6 years and 1 term. This is causing me to think and question a lot of things. If you add up all the 6 years above you will realise that I am not in the first flush of youth. In fact, given the vagaries of health, I am a lot nearer the end of my working life than the beginning. I’m not quite sure how this happened. It sort of crept up on me!

So, why do I love my job? Well, it’s changed a lot over the 6 years. I now spend a lot less time with the students. More time is spent supporting teachers and lots of time on administration and management of technologies: supervising mobile devices, implementing and promoting our virtual learning environment, and more recently, working on the technology plan for a new campus we are building. An important aspect of my role is to dilute the huge array of new technologies, sites, apps, games and the like to parcel into manageable quantities to offer to teachers to use to enhance learning.

I still come to school every day thinking and hoping I can make a difference to improve student learning.

But here’s a secret for you. It gets harder every year. And there are times when I wonder if I’m as motivated as I used to be and maybe consider moving on to start the next 6 years and 1 term cycle.

So, I’ve begun to look more closely at how I can continue to motivate and challenge myself to continue the (in my opinion!) high standards of my previous years.

I have devised a list of seven pearls of wisdom to help sustain me and ensure I remain focussed and motivated. A word of warning. I am no lifestyle coach or guru and I have never lit a scented candle in my life, so the following is likely to be highly practical and without hyperbole.

1. Switch Off. I’m not talking about a complete period of disconnection (dana boyd), or even a weekend without e-mail. I’m connected 24/7. If I ever add an “out of office” auto reply to Outlook, please shoot me. When I get home from work I usually log on after dinner and connect with both social and work circles. But for one or two evenings a week, give it a miss. Do something different. If you don’t answer that mail after 8.00pm one night so what. Everyone else uses “out of office” so don’t stress about it!

2. Remove the Twitter Spam. OK, we all know Twitter is great for sharing conversations, discoveries and the like. It also gives you the opportunity to receive a link, an app or an idea and then pass it on to your staff as your own! But as time progresses, new follows can clog your space, making it difficult to focus on what is really useful. Get rid of the spam. It’s easy to do. Anybody who tweets too much, constantly spouts about their education philosophy, or generally just makes you feel bad or inadequate, ditch them.

And if anybody you follow ever re-tweets themselves, ditch ‘em. Goodness knows what that person is like in real life. Sure, you may miss the occasional nugget, but you’re better off without the Twitter Spam. Try it. I’ve missed nobody I’ve unfollowed and it gives me a good feeling to know I don’t have to put up with their 50 or so tweets a day.

3. Identify and work with the innovators. Every school has a range of early adopters and innovators. Identify them and work with them, encouraging them to push the boundaries and adapt their pedagogies. Push them towards appropriate professional development opportunities, get them to present at conferences and share their work with their own colleagues who may not be quite so far along their technology journeys. Through them, your work becomes more sustainable and allows your influence to spread more widely.

4. Don’t bang your head against a brick wall. Accept that there are some things you cannot change. There will always be colleagues and managers obsessed with snapshot standardised test results, homework, handwriting and the like, who educate as though time has stood still for the last 15 years. Whilst converting one of these into an enlightened 21st Century educator may be one of your greatest achievements we all know it’s not likely to happen and the time you need to spend on the task can be better spent working with more open teachers who are able to positively support learning with a greater number of students.

5. Treat your school leaders carefully. Your school leaders need to support your innovation. If they don’t then your job is a lot harder, but not impossible. If they don’t support you then they must get out of your way and allow you to get on with your job. If they’re obstructive, bombard them with your successes and encourage your colleagues to do the same. And if you need to, skirt around them!

6. Parents. Engaging parents is an important part of any educator’s task. It’s even more important in a technology context as parents often need help and support tackling issues in the home. Opening a channel of conversation can be an invaluable source of information and perspective for all parties. If, as a teacher you don’t know what it’s like to have two teenage kids in the house constantly engaging with social media and online games, then talking to somebody who does can be very helpful. Talking to parents, through the use of Parent Technology Meetings also helps to raise the profile of technology within the school. Never a bad thing!

7. Find a new passion. Take something you love in a technology context and go with it. Develop some lesson resources and teach them yourself or encourage other teachers to use them. In the past for me it’s been Scratch, then photography, then games design. The next thing. Who knows?

 But that’s part of the fun of this job.


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