Friday, 15 November 2019

Think you know me? I've only recently got to know myself!

tweeted Nov 11 @Rangathetrainer

Several days ago, possibly after following #SWE19 and the fun, games, innovations and emotions being shared by those taking part, I felt compelled to share the tweet on the right here.

I'm not normally one to share, I'm quite a closed book and have long upheld the typically british stiff upper lip approach to life: no matter how bad things are, turn up and soldier on with a smile. How often has that smile been painted on? I daren't even imagine!

It felt like a great relief to open up about my anxiety and I was touched by some very honest and appreciated conversations both in person and online with people I respect highly. 

I am that guy that get anxious about new situations. 
I take a while to warm up in new company.
I hover around nervously looking for a way in.
I am the guy that is constantly looking for reassurance. I want to feel like I belong.

It was this tweet from Miss C (@Tech_missc) that finally prompted me to open up: I need this space

As I wrote in my tweet, those closest to me probably don't see this side of me because with them, I am more at ease and usually sarcastic, quick-witted and sharp. But this is only because I feel I belong.

Throughout my professional life I have always strived to help others. I've never felt like I am brilliant or amazing, I just do what I think needs doing to the best of my ability. I find taking compliments very uncomfortable and tend to crack a joke to laugh it off or diminish my involvement to deflect the attention. 

It has only been in the last 2 years that I have begun to understand this. I made a bold decision 3 years ago and made a big career change. It was something I'd always felt I wanted to do. I was SO wrong! I quickly learnt that it wasn't what I wanted at all and I found my way back to a more suitable role as quickly as I could, as much for the benefit of others and for my own sanity and health. I was in the wrong position for me. It wasn't right or fair on me or others.

Walking away felt like a failure and it still haunts me from time to time, even though I try to remind myself that it was an equally bold decision to do so. I took a risk, it didn't work so I made changes and as a result, I've learnt a lot.


Part of my 'recovery' from this failure was down to a guy who I owe a huge amount. His name? Dean Stokes. (@deanstokes). 

ImageI've known Dean for 20 years now, ever since he was a pupil in my very first Year 7 class in my NQT year. By his own admission, Dean was a shy young man in those days and somehow, he ended up growing in confidence and starring in school productions. He later returned to the school as a member of staff, a bit of a gamble of his own, and was instrumental in introducing G Suite to our school.

I had the honour of sharing an office with Dean for some time and learnt a huge amount about not just G Suite, but also, how to diversify and put yourself out there. When Dean moved on from school to full-time work, first with Appsevents, guess who took up the G Suite mantle.

I didn't feel ready. I didn't feel I had the knowledge base that Dean had. I felt I was dabbling and would quickly be found out. The one thing I was sure of though, I couldn't break it!

So fast forward to September 2018 and I got a call from Dean asking me to deliver a G Suite Support Staff Bootcamp for Appsevents in Aberdeen. I was hugely flattered but at the same time wondering, how desperate are you, Dean? You're asking me! 

I felt out of my depth and worried/anxious that I wouldn't be up to it. Getting a plane to Scotland was my first ever internal flight. I didn't even know what I needed but knowing Dean would be there to meet me at the airport got me through. At the hotel we met up with Ben Rouse (@Mr_BRouse) and talked about the plans for the next day. Then it was early to bed ahead of a busy day. I didn't really sleep. I kept tweaking my slides and pacing. Restless legs kept me awake.

The next morning we found our way to the venue and I had a great time with the staff there, who were welcoming and very receptive. I really enjoyed it but I still had doubts: Was it ok? Did they get what they needed from it? Did I miss anything? All these questions flying around my head.

Not long after Ben asked me to lead a similar bootcamp in Vienna. That was huge for me. And, as you might predict, I got to the school early, too early, no-one was there so I walked around Vienna for over an hour making sure I didn't stray too far and would be there on the dot to meet my contact. This was another great day and finished off with one of the delegates Jeremy, taking me to the Christmas Markets for some Gluhwein. A lovely way to end the day.

But all through this and still to this day, I don't feel like an expert, even though colleagues try to tell me I am. I just don't see what I do as anything special, because it's just what I've learnt to do.

So how does this all link?

Last night our school held our annual Key Stage 4 Awards Evening and I had invited Dean to be our guest speaker. We had several long chats beforehand and I was amazed to find he often feels like I do.
We talked about the message he could share and how that would be relevant to the students. He couldn't see it. That got us talking about Imposter Syndrome (which ended up a key part of Dean's message on the night). 

Needless to say, Dean smashed his speech. Everyone loved it. My technical side went well and the evening was a great success. A superb final school memory for our students and a great message for the future.

  • You’re more likely to regret the things you didn’t do rather than the things you did.
  • Take risks, make mistakes and learn from everything you do.
and remember
  • If you're feeling like a fraud, that's probably because you are really challenging yourself.
So to everyone reading this, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for reaching out, thank you for sharing - not just with me but with fellow professionals, friends and family.

And above all, thanks to you Dean. I would not be doing what I do now if it weren't for that quiet, shy guy who sat in French and allowed me to call him "Wally". 

The best kind of friendship is one where both of you grow as a result of the other.

Friday, 1 November 2019

G Gems 35: Extend yourself!

1. Voice typing in Google Sheets IS POSSIBLE with the Voice in Voice Typing extension from the Marketplace.  Just install the extension and double click in any cell to record the entry.

It's very accurate! Here's a demo video >>>

2. Have you tried Grammarly's tone detector yet? I've been using this for about 3 weeks now and it's proving quite entertaining as it tries to guide me to write appropriately worded content whilst correcting spelling and grammar.

I've enjoyed challenging it to see how accurate it is, and obviously, as a beta, it's still learning but it's been quite helpful beyond the novelty value on more than one occasion already. 

Grammarly guides you on the wording and tone of an email
as well as checking your spelling and grandma 😉
3. Check my links is a useful extension. It shows you which links are working properly and which ones are no longer valid for any pages or documents that you visit. Super handy for documents containing links to 3rd party sites, other documents or resources.

Activate the extension and it highlights links using the scale above.

Add Check my links here

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

You only get one shot (Sorry!)

I recently tweeted about my driving test...

It's something that I strongly believe in and always bothers me that the education system doesn't share the same approach.

If we are truly to motivate people to want to learn, they must see that a perceived failure at the first step is not in fact a failure at all. We've all said it to our classes and even our own children.. "We learn from our mistakes", "Every failure is one step closer to the solution", you know the drill. Yet the education system and its qualifications doesn't reflect this at all. Is it any wonder our young people get mixed messages and their self-esteem is adversely affected?

Returning to my first point, I failed my first driving test so chose to retake at a different location. One that in fact I was less familiar with, the intention being I might be more inclined to make my own decision based on the road situation than doing what perhaps I'd seen others do at that familiar junction where it went wrong the first time. The result was favourable and who knows whether that was down to my decision or just more driving experience by the time the second test came around.
Regardless, 26 years later I regard myself as a competent driver. I even helped my father pass his ADI course when he retrained to become an instructor by developing with him a step by step approach to parallel parking that he could then pass on to his students. Dad was a very successful driving instructor for many years, specialising in teaching those with disabilities. He was never concerned with a first time test pass, he was always concerned with the final test pass. I know his students appreciated this.

So how is it that in our current education system, resits/retakes are frowned upon and in some cases, have been withdrawn? How is it healthy for our young people to be told "you've got one shot at this, don't waste it".  
I'd replace second with another, but you get the sentiment

Young people are on their own in that exam room. No-one to offer them reassurance, no-one to bounce ideas off of, no-one to share the burden of what might be a make or break 60 - 120 minutes that will shape their lives forever. Is it any wonder that they are feeling the strain?

In the real world, I suspect very few of us would turn up for a big presentation with the boss without having tweaked it multiple times and run it past others, colleagues, friends and family, for their input or feedback. Imagine if your entire teaching career was based on the outcomes of a 15 minute 'drop-in' to your lesson last thing on Friday in the height of summer when it's 28 degrees out, everyone is ratty and you can't open the windows. Imagine the pressure you'd feel (I know, many probably don't need to imagine as you've been there).

In this day and age of innovation, collaboration and 10X thinking, we must embrace failure as an important step to success. So what if you don't get immediate success. 

What if we treated a student's learning journey like an application? (we keep telling the to apply their learning). What if students had Alpha and Beta opportunities to test their knowledge for flaws before a full release?  

What if these Alpha and Betas actually held credit?  Students would have nothing to lose and everything to gain and wouldn't this be a fairer reflection of the world they are heading in to?

I'm sure this would help students and us to better manage their mental health. Much like the new Ofsted EIF doesn't increase workload *coughs* , our current system of the first result counting for schools only serves to heap more pressure on students, directly or indirectly.

We have to ask ourselves what we want from our young people and what we want for their future. What will be important to and for them in their futures? (Not what was important to us)

I'm just rambling really, as a parent of a Year 11 I'm seeing a very different side now and it bothers me as you can tell.

We need to encourage innovation, encourage risk taking and encourage and celebrate the failures just as much as the successes as they are all part of the same journey.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

G Gems 34: user accountability & tracking in G Suite

Google for Education's G Suite offers a wealth of tools for tracking purposes.

Whether that be tracking user access and trends, collaborators' input, document updates or as an audit trail for email conversations.

Here's a summary of some of the tools I and my colleagues use regularly both in the classroom and in the office.

Activity Dashboard
The activity dashboard for Google documents, available by clicking the sparkling icon (top right) 

gives document owners full access to see who has viewed the document, who has been shared the document as well as a trend timeline of when it was accessed.
This proves very useful when sharing documents with a number of users to contribute and update as you can easily see who has been working on the document and who hasn't at a glance.

Version history
This feature is often overlooked by new users to G Suite. You can access via the file menu or by clicking the hyperlink at the top centre of the toolbar that usually reads something like "all changes saved to drive" or "last edit made X minutes ago by ......"
The side bar will open up giving you the various autosaved versions of the document from its very beginning, including which users have made changes (using a handy colour code).

All versions can be renamed (I often rename version 1 "original") and also copied at any time.
Any previous version can also be restored with a single click if changes are rejected.

Cell history
This great new feature works like version history but for each specific cell within Google Sheets.
Using this feature you can exactly which user has updated a cell and the timestamp. Where a cell has been edited multiple times a full history is visible by edit, user and timestamp.

Comment history
Within Google docs, once a comment has been resolved, it flies away. However, click on the comment icon (top right) and the full comment history can be brought back at any time.
Perfect for demonstrating an ongoing dialogue on the progress or changes within any document.

Gmail delegated access - allows access to send on behalf of a service account/team account within your domain (but shows who you're dealing with)
To set up delegated access for another user, from the main account go to settings > accounts and invite specific users.

Those users will then get an alert asking them to verify their account. It can take about 30 minutes for the change to take effect but soon they'll be able to select the delegated account in the drop down.

If delegated access to Gmail accounts isn't for you or your organisation you could consider setting up a Google Group as a collaborative inbox.

Collaborative inboxes allow members of the google group to send and share across the group with all messages arriving via Gmail ( I use the forum option in my Gmail settings).