Returning to a Learning Environment

Holidays can be a godsend after a long year of work. Escaping the routine of coffee, breakfast, work, coffee, home, coffee, sleep can be an invigorating and sometimes necessary event. But when the holidays are complete, where do you start?

  • Your classroom is empty;
  • the walls are bare;
  • you have your class list and details from last year;
  • you have the curriculum guidance and a list of texts;
  • the staff room is stocked with coffee, never forget the coffee.

Do you start with the physical environment: make it engaging and bright, friendly and exciting? Do you start with the organisation of the learners: who is in what group; who will sit where; which books do you want? Do you start with the planning, ensuring that the first days back are full of engaging activities? Do you plan with another teacher? Do you plan with classroom assistants or visiting specialists? Do you reach out to parents before planning? Do you wait until the learners arrive and begin the year together?

So many questions, so little time?

On the 20th of August, I have the distinct pleasure of sharing ideas about the transition between break-time, the holiday, and learning. I will be co-hosting Microsoft Edu’s TweetMeet, with 15 other international educators. We look forward to discussing, with you, ideas about what we do when preparing for this new beginning with a new group of learners.

The format will be a question and answer session that you can follow on Twitter, with the hashtag #MSFTEduChat or #backtoshool. Drop by at 6pm BST, click the link to convert to your time zone, and jump in. The goal is to have a cooperative session where all answers can be read, shared and explored.

For more information, check out our Super Sway! For links about the resources some of the co-hosts use, check out our Super Wakelet. For other information from Microsoft, about this event, check out their Super Education Blog.

We would all love to have you because if you don’t show up and share, we won’t be able to learn from you. I know one of my favourite things to do in all the world is learn.

A Journey with Fear

I have had the pleasure of working with Tim McDonald for some time now, and we have explored many ideas with regard to connections. Lately, Tim has begun writing about fear and is developing a book, “Creating a Healthy Relationship with Fear”.

Tim has taken an interesting approach to this by reaching out to his contacts, and asking for their input, in order to build a grand idea of what fear means to different people and how we each deal with or relate to our fears. 

I had the pleasure to talk with Tim on this point and shared my experience of living in fear as a child growing up in the school system. I continued with this, to discuss how I broke the bonds that held me in place, when I was a young adult. 

In addition to this opportunity to share, Tim co-hosted, with Ayelet Baron, a thought-provoking conversation on fear on a platform called Connectle. The focus of the talk was about how the participants had positively engaged with fear and how they support others to do so. It was interesting in the way that it clearly highlighted fear as a fabcrication of the mind and that it is something that the mind can engage with and relate to. A key take away was that fear can be a roadblock to progress or a boost to fire our actions. Click here to check out Connectle and view the conversation when it is shared, on the 9th of August.  

One perspective that was not discussed by the panel was that of a child. All of the participants had the adult perspective locked and confidently shared what, as adults, we can do to come to terms with fears that are part of our lives, but children do not have some of the luxuries or tools at their disposal that adults do. I offered some ideas to think about, in the text chat, and was invited to appear on camera.

I asked about the following situations:

  • the child who is forced to go to a place of fear 5 days a week for 7 hours a day;
  • the child who lives in that fear and does not change or challenge it because of the possibility of it worsening should they speak out;
  • the child who knows things will get worse if they challenge the current circumstance
  • the child who does not have a voice because of physical or mental limitations, so the adults and peers do not know their thoughts and feelings.

These situations are harrowing, and adults have the responsibility to step in and support. This responsibility does not fall only to adults who work regularly with children but could be something as innocuous as a smile to a child as they get on the bus; a question of support when a child walks with head down and shoulders slumped, or another acknowledgement of some kind. Children have not had the range of experiences adults have and therefore have, generally, not been able to develop the skills and experiences adults have to relate to fear. So, help them to develop.

Be a positive influence to othetrs around you by being open to change; show that change need not be such a major source of fear. Be the person who listens to enable and encourage others, who are stuck, to find their path rather than being the one who has all the answers and will solve all the problems. Model relating to fear, model it in your day to day life and in your interactions with others, regardless of status or age.

I enjoyed talking with Tim and the others on the panel and look forward to opportunities to talk and share ideas, in the future.

Connections around the world

I recently had the great privilege of interacting with a group of young women in a school in Nigeria. This was part of the Inspire a Child event with Flip Learn Kids, (@fliplearnkids). The event brought a wide range of speakers involved and interested in education:

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking alongside Olawunmi Brigue, where we shared our journey through education to reach the point where we now are. We also discussed ideas related to how to:

  • set goals and plan for success;
  • react to difficulties as part of the learning journey;
  • stay positive on the learning journey.

One of the best ideas that Olawunmi shared was, “When you hit a bump on the road, don’t pitch your tent there.” This resonated strongly with me because the easy option in life is often to stay the same. Even when you know that you are meant for more.

As a follow-up, I have been asked to offer my suggestions to a new group of questions, which I will do one at a time:

  1. My brother wants to join the military and I want to sing but our parents are against us. What do you advise?
    • I think it is important to honour your parents’ wishes but it is also important to be who you are and express yourself. I suppose my advice would be to first sit down with your parents so that you can get their perspective on the situation; it may be that they have some life experiences that you do not have that may encourage you and your brother to change your mind. Additionally, taking the time to talk to your parents about your passion and talents may encourage them to see that their goals for you may not be the same as your goals for yourself and a compromise may be possible.
  2. What if my health doesn’t allow me to chase my big dream. Should I abandon it?
    • Here is a video of a Canadian I met once, who did not let his health stop his dream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbSxUPoIIqM This is not your example, so I am not sure of the extent of your challenges. If you have a dream and have a strong passion for it, take small steps. It may be that over time you find that the health challenges are not such a big thing when you look back at all you have accomplished.
    • If, however, you find that the health challenges are too great to achieve your goal, it is more than likely that you will have found a plethora of different pursuits on your journey that can inspire new dreams. This doesn’t mean that you have given up, rather that you have changed and so have your dreams. This is an OK thing.
  3. Sometimes in class, I feel that my teacher is wrong but I cannot do anything because he will be angry. Should I feel sorry for everybody so that they will not call me a wicked girl?
    • First of all, if you are afraid of correcting your teacher because of their reaction, I feel sorry for your teacher. I believe that any teacher who thinks they are always correct and who is not open to learning with the students in a classroom is in the wrong profession. If you do not wish to publicly point out flaws in your teacher’s thinking, that is admirable, but if the teacher is wrong and you know it, you are doing a disservice to your teacher and your peers. One idea might be to speak with your teacher after a lesson, this will allow you to share your thoughts privately and, hopefully, your teacher will respond more sensibly. Additionally, you could write your teacher a note asking them to explain the answer or reason for what they taught: “Dear sir, in today’s lesson you taught us that (insert content here) could you explain why this is so for our next lesson? I did not fully understand it.” This is called tact, or diplomacy. It does not say that you think the teacher is wrong but it will encourage your teacher to think about what they have done. If they were correct, they can maybe teach it differently, if they were incorrect, they will hopefully share their error and thank the anonymous student. Win, win!
  4. I have many dreams. Can I achieve all of them? What if my friend has the same?
    • My dad once said something to me in my younger years, that has stuck with me: ‘If you believe you will succeed or you believe you will fail, you’re right.’ It’s not his quote, but the idea is a good one to hold onto. Many dreams, all at once, is a lot to ask. Why not focus on one and then focus on the second… you might find that many of your dreams are related and that working on one supports the fulfillment of another.
    • As for your friend, there’s another saying, that comes from Scotland, ‘Twa heids are better than yin,” which means two heads are better than one.
  5. I work with a team of amazing people just now and our goal is to make a difference in education. The amazing thing is that none of us seeks to be more amazing than the other. It is through our cooperation and collaboration that we truly shine. Not to say that we are not great individually, we really are, but our collective awesomeness if what makes the team so fantastic.
  6. Shout out to Vlatka, Cassie and Tim.

I want to say thank you for the opportunity to continue this relationship. I hope that some of my ideas help and work with what you are thinking. I will be creating a poster for the next phase in Inspire a Child’s work, this time in partnership with Ishk Skills Hub. I would welcome any other roles where I could support with this.

If you are an educator working with Flip Learn Kids or Inspire a Child, please take some time to check out Connected Educator Appreciation Day’s website, this organisation has monthly meetups where a panel discusses issues that are relevant to educators, no matter where you are based. The organisation is open to new members, writers and speakers. Funnily enough, I will be speaking at next week’s session.

Lastly, there is another event later this month, called EdChange Global. This event really got the ball rolling for me and I strongly recommend all in education take the time to check it out. The range of speakers and topics, over this 24-hour event, is truly hard to beat.

As always, feel free to submit a comment or click the links below to visit my other spaces on social media.

Thanks for reading.

Bring on 2019!!

New Year, New Possibilities!

I would never have thought this time, last year, that I would be where I am today.

In January, 2018, I was working away as an employee with Sumdog. We were working to extend the sales per district and I was designing the curricular documents to evidence the coverage we properly claimed we achieved.

Fast forward to May and I am met with company restructuring and family tragedy. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, I got back on the horse and started Fill the Gap Learning. I have had one heck of a ride working with a number of organisations and a number of stellar people!

First up was EdChange Global. This was my first mega-conference. It spanned 24 hours of expert educators sharing their learning journey and skills. It was like no PD experience I had ever known. I thought I might check out an hour, or maybe 2. I stayed for 15 sessions and hosted 1. This was a real turning point here because it was when I met Cassie Reeder and Vlatka Butkovic! These two forces of education invited me to the party, and I just haven’t left yet.

Through William Jenkins, I met Tim Macdonald and Andrea Tolley. It was at this point that things started to really heat up. Andrea and William were floating the idea of a virual / Skype EdCamp. For those of you who don’t know what an EdCamp is, I recommend you check it out.

Through no fault of their own, William and Andrea were not able to continue with the concept, despite months of planning, so Tim, Cassie, Vlatka and I ran with the idea.

It might not have been the initial vision of the virtual EdCamp, but we built a 8, 1- hour session that brought educators together from 6 continents. We titled it Connected Educator Appreciation Day, or #CEduAD for Twitter.

Team Connected are still together and going strong, and so am I! I have worked with 5 organisations, since leaving Sumdog, and have my sights on 3 others, for Fill the Gap Learning’s near future.

It is amazing what is possible once you take that first step. It is a scary first step, I know all too well, but the second step is much less so!

I wish you all the best in your 2019 adventures. The sky is the limit, as far as I am concerned.

Connected Educator Appreciation Day, all wrapped up.

Connections, they are probably one of the strongest forces for change in a community or career: knowing someone who does something differently and has had great success with it is a strong catalyst for you to try it. Word of mouth from a friend or colleague can resonate more strongly that research alone, when referring to new strategies, practices or resources.

I have had the great pleasure of being an organiser of the first annual connected educator appreciation day. The day has been a few years old as a concept and finally took form and gained momentum this past summer time with a team of 4 exceptional leaders of change:

  • Tim MacDonald, a community manager extraordinaire (hailing from the USA) @tamcdonald;
  • Cassie Reeder, former teacher turned education consultant and co-organiser of EdChange Global (also from the USA) @cassiereederedu;
  • Vlatka Butkovic, school director and web designer (from Croatia) @Butkovicedu;
  • and me, Michael Sinclair, also a former educator turned education consultant (from Scotland).

We are the team who took an idea of connecting educators, much like a community manager would, and sharing experiences and skill sets with anyone wanting to learn. The initial idea came from William Jenkins and Andrea Tolley, who sadly were not able to join us on the breakneck speed process of planning a global professional development event; one that was by, for and about educators.

The topics that were discussed were:

  • Encouraging Change in the Classroom: Planning and Practice
  • Using Technology to Connect Outside the Classroom
  • The Role of a Technology Ambassador
  • Gamification in the Classroom
  • Promoting your Skill Set
  • Using New Technology Effectively in the Classroom
  • STEAM for the Classroom
  • Training Teachers in Schools

Each session lasted about 55 minutes and had hosts, panellists and attendees engaged with a range of relevant questions for teachers, now, in the classroom. The educators who were present were a diverse group from locations around the world: India, United States, Argentina, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sweden, Croatia, Kuwait, Romania, United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, Yemen, Tunisia, Spain, Nigeria, Jordan, Germany, Colombia. I cannot truly express the wonder and excitement I felt when I could see and hear of the experiences and ideas that were expressed about the important of relationships for learners and educators; the importance of mutual trust when building the relationships and the importance of using technology as a tool to support learning not the focus of the learning.

We are slowly polishing the videos from the event and will release them weekly with the end goal of hosting shorter, hour, sessions once a month to maintain connections and build new ones. You can check them out on our YouTube Channel. If you were a participant or attendee, we would love you thoughts on our blog, if you aren’t a member of the site yet, sign up and we’ll give you access. Search for our tweets at #CEduAD on Twitter, or follow us at @ConEduAD. Additionally, you can like our Facebook page.

I hope you will join us again, or for the first time, for one of our future events.

Connections Galore

For the past few months, I have found myself part of an amazing team that has brought together educators from 6 of the 7 continents in the world, unfortunately everyone in Antarctica was busy.

Tomorrow the 20th of October, is when we, Tim McDonald, Vlatka Butkovic, Cassie Reeder and myself will see the fruits of our labour. Connected Educator Appreciation Day sees its first annual event launched tomorrow, starting at 10am EST (with a 30 minute warm-up at 9:30).

We have designed 8 sessions, each with 2 hosts, all around the theme of connected educators and learning. The goal of this 8 hour event is to learn and share:

  • what have we done to connect that has been successful, what did we do to nurture and grow that success, how we encouraged others to experience their own success or share in ours;
  • what challenges have we faced, if we overcame them and how, if we didn’t, what steps did we take;
  • who have we met, what impact they had, what they shared, how they shared it – to encourage us to experience something similar to them;
  • what’s next?

There are no salespeople talking, though we might share what we have used and there are no experts professing to have all the answers despite a few people having a wealth of success and experience. We are all learners and we, the connected ones, have no desire to stop learning.

Come join us at Connected Educator Awareness Day, you just might have the experience or knowledge to share, which someone else is looking for to take the next step on their learning journey. Come listen, because someone else might have exactly what you need. Come experience, to help the learners under your care engage in the 21st century learning they need for our current fast paced, high tech world.

When the practice is done

Have a look at this image. 

It’s a pretty standard worksheet, no bells or whistles, just practice of arithmetic*. What I would like you to think about is what you do with it. Of course, you mark it as it has been marked, or something similar, and probably record the results. Maybe you don’t mark them wrong the same way, make your ticks are different. The question is, then what? Does it go back to the learner to correct? Does it get filed into a binder or glued into a notebook? Do you take a digital image of it and store it on the cloud? Do you file it away in a folder for reports or consultation evenings / afternoons? Maybe you think this is a starting point and they will get better with more exposure to teaching or practice in your class.

But maybe, you could use it to inform the learner’s next steps and yours!

Come again? You may say, this is one sheet in a two week plan that I have. This is only one of many pieces of practice that I have planned for addition within 20. How on earth do you expect me to change my plan now? I have deadlines, and targets, and 29 other learners in the class.

Let’s look at the page again, with some annotations this time. 

The annotations, when brought together, might inform you of the following:

  • Addition up to 10 seems OK.
  • Doubles seem to be known but perhaps not understood.
  • ’10’ does not seem to be counted for sums more than 10.
  • I need to talk with the learner about 10 and beyond

Would this be cause to begin your plan again? Well, no, but I hope it would encourage you to look at your next steps to see how you can incorporate a way of showcasing misconceptions like the ones on the worksheet in future lessons. You might miss your deadline, you might, but think about the positive benefits for the learners in your care; think about the positive benefits for you, when you go on to explore subtraction, or other ideas, and you needn’t worry (as much) about similar misconceptions occurring again? Is that worth an extra day or two? I hope so. And, who knows, you might even be able to incorporate exploring the misconceptions within your initial plan without missing a beat.

By approaching practice as more than an exercise in displaying understanding but also a way to gather information for future learning, you can improve both your experience in the classroom, as a guide, and that of the learners with whom you work.

A wise lecturer in math once asked my first year class a great question: what is mathematics? After a number of attempts, the response that came closest, in her mind, was, the study of patterns. As an educator, I feel it is my job to find patterns in learning, which often come from patterns in mistakes. As an educator in math, I feel it is one of my main goals to encourage an awareness of patterns in a) the larger world and b) in the abstract world of forms and figures.

Take the time to do more than mark correct or incorrect! Look for the patterns! Be a mathematician!

*The worksheet was made and shared on OneNote so as to not waste paper and allow me to keep all learner efforts organised and shareable with the home. All feedback here is available to learners and their families wherever they have an internet connection.

EdCamps – What’s that about?

So, after attending the EdChange Global event, I reflected on one of the sessions, and quite a bit at that. It was titled, “So, you want to run and EdCamp” (the video will be shared soon). The idea that came to me upon first heading EdCamp was summer camp, where teachers came to support learners in a range of areas that children wanted to learn about.

I missed the mark a little but, but the truth might seem a little crazier: Edcamps are where educators go, in their free time, voluntarily and attend sessions without prior knowledge of what the session is going to be. Kind of like a blind date for professional development. Well, blind dates let you see the person as you walk across the restaurant to meet them, which is about all the warning you get at an EdCamp. Sound crazy?!? Well, yeah, it is. Until you attend. Then it seems like what every PD session should be.

Imagine it’s the beginning of the school year and you have your priorities. So, you pull out the master book with all the PD opportunities and leaf through until you find one that you want. Great, your happy, box is ticked. In two months, you’ll spend an hour or so, after school, with 30 other like minded educators discussing the topic you selected, listening to an expert sharing their successes, maybe resources, maybe strategies, and maybe other things. Box ticked, back to work and you have a lot that you can apply to your teaching.

Now, an EdCamp. You have a date and a venue. It could be a school, an office, another building, or it could be online. You don’t have a box to tick to choose your session. You know where /when and maybe who if there are others going with you or a known educator is advertising it. You don’t know what. Yes, that’s right, you’re going to a PD session without knowing what the session topic is going to be.

But, when you get there, you see a board, or a series of tables, or some other system of recording ideas: you get to suggest the session topics there and then. In fact, if you suggest it, you might have a hand in encouraging participation.

Example: I like being connected with other educators. I have a professional learning network (PLN), which is fairly diverse, but I am always looking for it to grow. Why not suggest that for a session.

So, my first EdCamp (which will also have video available soon), I did just that. I had no plan, no outline, no script and I did not have all the answers but I did have questions. The thing is, the other participants were in the same boat – they had questions, answers and were willing to share. What a lovely, organic experience. It didn’t matter how ‘off-topic’ the conversation got, that was the point! The point was that there be conversation, sharing, connections! A shout out to Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur) the founder of #Edumatch for being part of the organising (organizing) team, thank you for this opportunity.

My first EdCamp and I am itching for more. Maybe a physical one in the UK could be coming soon. I know there are connected educators on my side of the pond, maybe they just haven’t been exposed to this free system! Here’s another participant’s take on the EdCamp.

Let’s get connected! #CEduAD

A New Journey

Taking a step away from safety and security can be a very daunting prospect. The number of start-ups that managed only the first step is a testament to this.

Being a leader without any followers is an equally daunting prospect. The number of people looking at you as though you have lost your mind are going to far outweigh those that choose to follow, well, at the start anyway. Once you get that first follower though, and maybe a second, there are not quite so many incredulous looks. Your followers might even lead their own tribe too.

I am at the start of my journey and aim to go the distance. I know what I have left and I am glad that I have. I know what I want and feel I know the best direction in which to travel.

This road isn’t straight or smooth. There are no short cuts and the rest stops are few. But I have had successes already and when success is achieved it only encourages you to greater heights.

Where I was was safe and secure, but I had my place and was fixed there. I am looking ahead to greater freedom for myself, my family and others around me.

Who else wants to join me?

EdChange Global 18 has been wound up

EdChange GlobalWow, wow and wow!

What an amazing event built and run by an amazing group of individuals. I have never before felt so buoyed by others to stay and learn at the next event, and then the next one too.

When I first heard of EdChange Global, I thought it would be an ideal place to do some networking, build my PLN and maybe present something. I designed a presentation and clicked on 2 sessions that looked interesting. Then, the introductory session happened…

The energy was palpable, the enthusiasm infectious and, as the intro finished about 7pm BST, I thought I might attend a couple more. That was Friday evening. I went to bed at 12am. I got up just before 8am. 8am! On a Saturday! Yeah, I know!

I am so happy that I did!

I had initially clicked on two events before the session started, I attended 15 at the end of the 24 hours. 15 PD sessions in one day. I didn’t even know that was possible. And sure, people were seeing my name and face and hearing my words, but that isn’t why I stayed. I stayed because I was learning. I stayed because the people were so happy to be there. This is at 2am CST, happy, to be there!

No where else and at no other time have I ever experienced anything like this. I need to be part of this again, and I am dying to be a part of something like this in the UK.

Anyone else interested?


Below I am adding in some movers and shakers you should check out if you happened to stumble across this blog post (and below that are the sponsors from the event, you guys rock):

 @ @   @educatoralex @LanguageToolbox @ireneamelia1 

 @

Sorry for anyone I missed. Looking forward to the next one.