Ever Evolving

There has never been so much available, but how effective is our use of ICT in schools?

Recently I was asked a question by a colleague, an LSA working in Foundation Phase.

She’s young, keen, bright.

“How can I keep up when everything keeps changing? Mrs X knows so much and she makes it look easy”

That’s a big question.

When I started teaching I had a blackboard and a half share in a BBC computer. The biggest ICT difficulty I encountered was waiting for the tape to screech its way to the end and load the programme.

But today, in many schools there is a plethora of hardware and in many cases advances in technology have rapidly overtaken staffs’ ability to use it.

So what can we do to keep up?

Prepare Play
I think that we need to take time to play and explore. You have to be confident to use an ICT skill before you can teach it so you have to invest the time to explore and play.

If you’ve been on ICT CPD go home and use the software/app/skills that were covered.
Keep using them again and again until you are confident the knowledge and skills are firmly embedded.

Teach someone else how to use your new skills, write about it on your blog.

If you find something great or spot something that might work for someone else tell them – even better show them. Maybe blog about it.
If you’re in Wales use all the great features on Hwb+. Join a network, start a network, make playlists.

Recently on Twitter @ICTevangelist posted “Social Media as a teacher … the more you put into it the more you get out of it” – how very true

In some ways it’s never been easier to find new stuff – use twitter, follow people, join conversations, use hashtags and read blogs. All that expertise is available – use it.

Be Selective

You can’t do it all. I think it’s better to do something well rather than dabble in lots of things in an ineffectual manner.
What do you want to achieve? Make sure you are doing something that will enhance your teaching, don’t try and shoehorn something in because it looks fun. Bookmark it and save it for a time when it actually fits into your teaching.
Decide, select your weapon of choice, develop your skills, teach it.
And once you’ve done one thing well move on to something else (but remember to share your success or failure with your colleagues so they can learn too)

Ask your pupils

You have a room full of potential experts – encourage them to share ideas. Tell them what you want to achieve next and let them bring in ideas.

Next week I really want us to do some photo editing and present our poems using ICT – how can we do this?

Be Unafraid

Don’t be afraid of it. The number of times staff tell me “I would have done it but I was afraid I’d break it”
Obviously don’t do anything foolish but if you are sensible you aren’t going to do that much damage – honestly.

Ask for help

But only after you’ve tried on your own first.

Google is your friend.

Be more Dog

IMG_6323During the holidays I try and take time to reflect upon my approach to work during the previous term.

Have I worked wisely? Achieved anything of note? Helped others?

What won’t I do again? What will I do again?

How have I reacted to challenging situations? I’ve worked hard -do the effort and outcome match?

They say that people gradually become more like their dogs.

We have two – a frenetic, neurotic rescue terrier who reacts to every situation without thought. He has boundless energy and is perfectly happy to be on the go all day even if he achieves nothing. He makes a lot of noise, he barks at anything and everything. He digs holes, gnaws sticks and runs.

We joke that we could walk him in a circle forever and he wouldn’t mind, in fact he’d be perfectly happy.

He’s naughty, he gets into trouble for the same offences again and again.

He’s fiercely protective and loyal.

At the end of the day he fights sleep, his head nods and he forces himself to stay awake incase he misses anything.

The mastiff is a completely different kettle of (dog)fish. She’s laid back, watchful and learns fast – you only need to tell her something once.

She doesn’t believe in wasting energy, she rarely barks but when she does you know it – it’s more like a roar. If she feels a walk is unnecessary, too familiar or boring she sits down to signal her disapproval.

Believe me, moving her is a challenge. It’s only her innate good manners and obedience that make her move and she exudes disapproval.

If she wants to do something because she thinks it is of value she is keen and willing and she gives 100%. Otherwise she conserves her energy.

And me? Upon reflection too much terrier.

I’m not good at letting go, I need to learn to distinguish between tenacity and stubbornness. I want to do everything, I can’t bear not to be involved. I can’t bear to fail – I spend hours trying to solve tiny ICT niggles that probably don’t matter because I won’t admit defeat, I’m not great at saying no. I probably talk too much.

I think I need to be aim for more mastiff, with a touch of terrier.

The boundless energy and enthusiasm combined with the ability to hold back and watch before making a reasoned decision.


Conserve energy so when something important needs doing I’m raring to go.

Have a clear rational for everything I’m doing.

Make less noise, especially when it isn’t necessary.

Patience, watch and listen, thought before action, purposefulness.

Or perhaps I should try channelling the cats

Eat … enjoy life … sleep…


In Praise of Praise


Years ago I was on a course and one of the other participants kept using the phrase “praise junkies”

She felt that as teachers we had become accustomed to doling out praise just because. Even when it wasn’t justified we would find something positive to say and therefore it had become meaningless – expected but not impactful.

Although it didn’t ever made me doubt the need to offer praise and encouragement it did make me think a little more carefully about how I used it.

Then I found myself on the other side of the teacher pupil relationship.

I got a rescue dog and signed up for training classes.

We were the worst pair in the group. He was wild and stubborn, I was a sweating struggling mess.

At the end of each session I’d be red faced and exhausted.

The trainer was great – patient and understanding.

On the rare occasions we got it right she would pounce and praise

Well done, he’s really responding to you.
Fantastic – I can see a big improvement in your lead technique – you’ve obviously been working hard at home.

I felt myself growing in confidence and stature. Every time she told me I had done something well or that she could see I was improving I felt a surge of pride and the urge to try even harder.

She praised effort as well as improvement.

She sounded as if she meant it.

She never ever praised me when I did something wrong, she simply pointed out my error and showed me what I should be doing.

Turns out that I may be a praise junkie after all, because if she hadn’t found anything positive to say about us I probably wouldn’t have completed the course.

Deserved praise delivered often is a great motivator.

So what do I want to achieve when I offer praise in my classroom?

I want to motivate

I need to mean it

Recognise effort, acquisition of skills and knowledge, improvement.

I aim to make my praise like my marking – meaningful, heartfelt and helpful.

I don’t want it to be expected just because.

My current favourite is to encourage pupils to evaluate their own work

“Wow, Emma I have three great things to say about your work – can you tell me what you think they might be”

And it’s not just pupils who benefit from praise – I think we need to make an effort to recognise colleague’s successes. Appreciate it when they’ve gone the extra mile.

Cos let’s face it – everyone likes deserved validation because I think at heart we may not be praise junkies but we are praise motivated.


Repost from Staffrm


Making target setting meaningful and manageable is something I’ve struggled with for years.

Not so much the actual setting of the targets but the recording, management and storage of them.

Over the years I’ve used bookmarks, stickers, target books, targets on walls, booklets and I’ve never really been 100% happy with any system.

I’ve toyed with the idea of going electronic but decided it would be IT for the sake of IT.

I thought I’d cracked it when we started writing them in the backs of homework diaries but someone lost their diary, then sometimes the diaries weren’t in school and it just didn’t promote the home school link I was aiming for.

Currently my pupils have a target sheet. It’s A4 and at the top it reminds them that they need to be setting SMART targets and clarifies what a SMART target is.

They are stored in A4 wallets along with their reading record, ICT record and LNF sheets. These are kept in the classroom and are easily accessible.

Once a week we spend 15 minutes updating them (GRIT – guided reflection and improvement time)

During this time all the pupils get their folders out and spend time looking at their target sheets, they get out their books and cross reference targets with marking – I encourage them to talk to one another and ask and answer questions

Have I achieved this target?
If not why not?What do I need to do to succeed here?
Is this target still relevant to me

I also get them to scribble down an update – if the target is to use paragraphs to organise written work a comment might say

I’ve remembered to do this in my Literacy book, but I haven’t done it in my RE book.

The sheets can be messy, I don’t mind that, I consider them a working document. Sometimes the comments influence my planning.

If three weeks has passed and they haven’t completed a target or made a comment they have to come and talk to me so we can work out what they need to do next.

The folders are always accessible, and I encourage them to update them outside and refer to them during the week.

But do you know, I’m still not happy with the system.

It works for some pupils and they refer to their targets and take responsibility for updating them and challenging themselves but I know that there are a handful who don’t benefit from the process at all so I need to do better and find something that works for them.

Writing this has made me realise that in all the times I’ve reinvented the wheel I have never once asked the pupils how they think we can make this process helpful and effective.

I guess that’s where I need to go next.

How do you role?

Sometimes, when you stop and think about it teaching is an odd job. All those roles crammed into each day.

What have I done in work today?

I’ve been a

  • teacher
  • listener
  • learner
  • joke teller
  • blogger
  • film crew
  • gardener
  • furniture mover
  • tear mopper
  • first aider
  • dinner lady
  • shopper
  • ICT technician
  • coder
  • tea maker
  •  marker

Favourite Things

Rewrite from staffrm

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens


I am an inveterate collector of stuff.

Gadgets, bags, pens, notebooks (stationery in general) – I’m a marketing manager’s dream because I always want the next best thing. I buy things to solve problems I didn’t even know I had.

I haven’t spent the last few months deciding which apple watch I’m not having. Oh no, not me. I wouldn’t fall for that slick shiny marketing.

“What does it do?” asks MrAthrawes.
And I bluster
“Loads of stuff… you know”

But the truth is i just want it because. 

So which of my many purchases have stood the test of time?

Crumpler bags

I have two messenger style bags that I use for school. One that fits an iPad, the other a MacBook. They are tough, protective, not too big and they even withstand being thrown in the washing machine. One was a gift, the other an eBay purchase but i would happily have paid full price.

Magnus Stylus

New kid on the block is my Maglus stylus. I wanted one for ages and finally caved last term. I did that sad thing where I offer myself a reward

If you do this then you can have this. Do other people do this?

It is a thing of beauty. Heavy, pleasurable to use, beautifully magnetic.

Even the packaging was beautiful (told you I was a sucker for marketing) it comes with a handy replacement nib sealed in a dinky keyring capsule.

I’ve used it everyday. It’s great for drawing mindmaps, flowcharts, taking notes in Welsh lessons (predictive text hates Welsh) The children covet it.

I’m planning to buy more as birthday gifts for friends.

Contigo Mug

It’s battered and not looking its best after a year of use. But I love it.

I can fill it with tea before I leave the house, by the time I get to work it’s ready to drink. If I’m delayed en route I can swig away. A quick top up before the children arrive lasts me until break time and so it goes on.

Over the past twenty years I dread to think how many half cups of cold tea I have poured away. Now I actually get to drink hot tea all day long

Even better, if it gets knocked over there is no spillage.

I fling it in my bag and so far not a drop has leaked out.

Grid it

Simple, but effective. Lots of stretch straps on an oblong stiff base.

It prevents having to rummage around in the bottom of my bag to find a charger/pendrive/pen. I wish I’d invented this!

Pilot V Pens

These are disposable fountain pens. I know, a contradiction in terms. My weapon of choice is a Waterman but having lost one and misplaced the replacement repeatedly I decided I needed a cheaper alternative.

They come in lots of colours and are lovely to write with. They are cheap enough for me to buy a set to allow for disappearances – of course the irony is I haven’t lost one so far this school year.

Power or Influence

Driving to work this morning listening to Radio 4 (#middleaged) I caught the end of a debate about the difference between power and influence.

They were talking about politics but it got me thinking about how important these are in education.

I remember all the colleagues who have influenced me with thanks and fondness. I don’t always think so kindly about those who have been in a position of power.

In my early teaching career I worked with a teacher who was renowned for her forthright opinions and uncompromising stance. I did my first day of supply teaching in her room and I was terrified.

The truth is that underneath this brusque exterior lurked one of the kindest and most influential people I have worked with.

Looking back 20+ years I cringe at my own woeful ignorance and I remember how tactfully she dealt with me.

She would see me floundering and make suggestions but in such a manner that she implied she knew perfectly well that was what I was going to do anyway.

When I got it right she told me. She thanked me. She told other people I was doing a good job. She made me feel that I could succeed, she made me believe I had it within me to be a good and effective teacher.

As my line manager (did we use these terms back in 1990?) she was in a position of power but she chose not to command me. She was powerful, but didn’t overpower me. She led by example and when I was losing my way she nudged me in the right direction.

It’s 20 years since I worked with her but even now, when I get things right it is often because of her influence.


Incidentally, on the radio the general consensus seemed to be that power was the thing that mattered.

Personally, I’m not so sure.

The power of influence.