One Friday afternoon in February 2010 I took a phone call from Tom Jackson to congratulate me on a winning entry to the Microsoft Innovative Educators competition. It was a last minute thing putting a spotlight on some of the work that I was doing with Home-School partnerships – the use of a VLE, etc. I didn’t think it was much – just a way of trying to boost engagement in school.

innovativeWhat I didn’t realise was that this was the start of a fantastic journey that has taken me around the world to meet and be inspired by wonderful educators and a network of enthusiastic supporters within the Microsoft family. It’s the photo at the top of my page – Cape Town as viewed from Robben Island.

It was a direct link to engaging with an outstanding and inspiring group of teachers in Northern Ireland through the formation of the Northern Ireland TeachMeet community; developing the NIedchat community and, ultimately, Niedcamp which ran in August this year. I have made close friendships, which I hope will be lifelong, and have been fortunate to have been asked to speak to teachers to try to engage them in training and their own professional development in a wide variety of situations. I have also been able to meet, and converse with, decision makers within Northern Ireland and have felt that my opinion has been listened to. My Facebook and Twitter feed is full of updates from wonderful people that I have met from around the world as they continue to update their work and how they are trying to change lives.

All this, and more, from a simple little project and my continued trials and tribulations in the classroom. I don’t think I’m that good, to be honest (and, no, that’s not an open invitation) and according to the modern standards by which I would be judged – planning, administration, follow-up, tracking, etc. – I’d probably be a long way down that list – but I also know and appreciate that teaching is far more than that and I do my best and (think) I work hard.


WP_20140311_10_27_53_ProThe Expert Educator programme has opened my eyes to a lot more than just these things. It has shown me that Ireland and Northern Ireland, that tiny little outcrop in the North Atlantic, can be seen to be amongst the world’s best in education and has some of the best educators – I’ve seen them in action and they are remarkable!

I mention this because it is coming close to the deadline for teachers to apply for this year’s programme. I would like to encourage as many of my fellow colleagues to apply and see how you can have your faith in the profession restored and your horizons widened.

It is a wonderfully visionary programme from the Microsoft team and I say that without WP_20150121_13_14_43_Proany bias. I do get teased, rightly, regarding my loyalty to the company – whether it be through my use of the software, the devotion to OneNote; the MS Band on my wrist, the Lumia phone in my pocket or the Surface Pro 3  upon which I am currently writing -(Currently open to offers for upgrading all of them, btw ;) ) – but, you know something, people like Tom Jackson and Anthony Salcito have changed my life in many ways so, hey, there you go.. brand loyalty for a reason!

But the Expert Educator Programme has always been about much more than that and I have always been impressed by seeing the passion in the company about how they can improve the lives of teachers and students. People want to help, developer teams want to listen, staff want to engage – all for the purpose of being able to support teachers to make the lives of their students better. Of course, Microsoft products are at the heart of it – and rightly so – but they want to see how their creations are used and adapted in the classroom and beyond.

I have been encouraged to take risks for learning – my own and the children’s – and to grow as a teacher and a person.

The programme has given me the confidence to tell others and, hopefully, give them the confidence to take risks and improve their experiences and those of their pupils.

And to just try to do things better!


I would encourage any teacher who is engaged in this way to apply for the programme this year, If you don’t think that you can begin the process now, talk to Tom about looking at next year – about getting your ideas together and about how best to approach the project. But, if you can, go this year – you’ll love the pressure about meeting the deadline! :) And I’m more than happy to offer any help that I can.

WP_20140311_09_23_58_ProIt used to be said that you should join the army to see the world – but I managed it from my own little classroom, in the middle of nowhere, on a tiny island that would fit into the palm of your hand! So, if I can do it… you definitely can!

Rewriting the Rule Book

My post below was posted on niedcamp.org on the eve of our #niedcamp day on 18th August in Stranmillis College.

I’m proud to be a teacher and I’m proud of the profession I serve. I really think that there’s no greater gift to give to a fellow person than enabling their child to achieve their potential; see their possibilities; to give them aspirations… It’s what the profession should be about.

I’m not naive enough to think that everyone feels like me, nor am I naive enough not to realise that there are a number of teachers who like getting paid each month without pushing themselves… We’ve all had those days, it’s worse when it becomes weeks.


I’m also tired of excuses… Teaching never was an easy job and it isn’t getting any easier. But remember this, teachers have engaged in third level education and are supposed to have proven themselves to be academically capable.

This is why I don’t understand the resistance to change and to be flexible in the job. This is why I don’t understand why there are those teachers who won’t give their all to make a difference to their practice and, ultimately, to their children. It’s not, and never will be, an easy job…


There are teachers in Northern Ireland who are determined to abolish the myth of short days and long holidays.

There are teachers who are prepared to give everything… And then a bit more… There are teachers who are prepared to look colleagues in the eye and respond to that question:

‘Why could you be bothered?’


‘Why aren’t you?’
Have you met Pamela?

Have you met Jacinta?

Have you met Dáithí?

Have you met Tim?

Have you met Corinne?

Have you met Amanda?

Have you met Dessie?

Have you met Heather?

Have you met Ciarna?

Have you met Simon?

Have you met Beverly?

Have you met Donna?

Have you met Heather?

Have you met Alastair?

Have you met Dessie?

Because, when you do, you’ll understand why I’m proud to be standing shoulder to shoulder in this #niedcamp movement to show how important professional development is to teachers. When Sir Ken Robinson talks about ‘surrounding yourself with your tribe’ these are the very people he means! We are the ones who talk shop when we go out because we know that’s where the best ideas grow… Why do you think there are pool tables and relaxation zones in all the best companies?


There are the ‘Naysayers’ who think we’re foolish and letting the government off the hook. You know something, we may well be doing that but at least we’re not sitting at home ‘tutting’ about the state of the system! We are affecting change…

We are doing something…

We are resolute in our determination…

We are growing…


You look at it, this positive militancy that #niedcamp is, showed that there are good people prepared not to be side-lined and who, ultimately, are trying to make things better for the children in their daily care.

With #Niedcamp about to launch – it is this team of teachers who are prepared to improve the lives of their colleagues, their children and teachers whom they have never met!


Because they are proud to make a difference;

They are proud of the profession;

They are proud of their professionalism.

When we think about teaching in Northern Ireland – these are the people that we should be thinking about. People who can, and do, make a difference. People who are prepared to give that extra bit to improve the lives of those around them.

This is the team that is raising the standard high – and carrying it proudly.

I look forward to #Niedcamp and how we can show that with a bit of flexibility, a positive approach and attitude; a lot of teamwork and focussed leadership – we can use one day to make a difference.

#niedcamp have a plan

Originally posted on Curriculumni:

Following my most recent blog and @MrMalcontent ‘s call to arms. The teachmeet Belfast team (alongside a few welcome newcomers) have got together and are beginning to make #niedcamp a reality. We met up on Friday night and we have a plan! The website, twitter and Facebook profiles are already up and running. The venue should be confirmed this week.

So get behind us, reclaim the professionalism we deserve and sign up to http://www.niedcamp.org/ Tweet and retweet. Like and share.

We need as many teachers as possible to support us. So please start talking about this event in your staffroom before the end of June and sign up.

We also need confident professionals to step up and be presenters for the day. Please don’t be shy about applying to do this afterall, we stand in front of an audience ready to learn everyday of our working lives.

Be a…

View original 4 more words


thNo, not a rallying call for any of my readers (and why do I have readers?) to go and seek out Lloyd Cole’s most recent album – though it is rather marvellous!

I’m always reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s famous (now infamous) TED talk where he mentioned that (paraphrase) in governments’ drives to raise standards, he was yet to come across a teacher interested in lowering standards…

In light of the recent decision of the RTU to cancel the traditional, and as far as I amCapture aware – over subscribed, series of Summer Schools in Northern Ireland for teachers, there has been the groundswell amongst the proponents of TeachMeet in Northern Ireland, to grasp the opportunity to provide an alternative for teachers.

This is truly raising the Standard for teachers, and by teachers. In harking back to the Roman raising of the Standard, we are now seeing a rising amongst the teaching fraternity to take ownership of their CPD and map out their career paths by offering the same opportunities to their colleagues.

Nobody HAS to go to a TeachMeet, however, over the past number of years from the tentative original 50-60 people squeezed into a lecture theatre in Stranmillis College to 120 in St. Mary’s College a couple of months ago, there is a continuing drive to develop the movement of self-directed CPD in teachers. It’s by no means perfect, and not everyone will be interested, but if we can grow to where we are now on word-of-mouth and social media from 5 people meeting in Starbucks (Where’s the blue plaque?) I think there’s an opportunity to give teachers the impetus to come with us in raising our own Standards.

By seeking out the classroom practice of colleagues through attending a TeachMeet, these teachers are also interested in raising the Standards in the classroom. Sometimes, they’re not always objectively measureable but the impact can be seen on a human level through engagement and creativity. But, the teachers are there; on their own time; under their own direction and wanting to learn. They are bearing their own Standard – going back, sharing the practice, taking the risks by trying something new and spreading the TeachMeet message. We don’t always get it right but, on most occasions, I think we do…

I’m not a Standard bearer – at times I think I’m just shining a light into a dark corner that needs explored but I come back to Sir Ken Robinson and how he suggests that we should surround ourselves by ‘Our Tribe’ and I am so proud to be even associated with the dynamic, wonderful, driven, focused, passionate, intelligent, thoughtful, caring and downright brilliant people that have taken up the TeachMeet Standard in Northern Ireland and truly believe in the good that it can do!

Follow the Standard or carry the Standard?

As the Roman armies were able to follow their own Standard on the battlefield, we have taken up our own Standard to shine bright this summer. We are nearly there; the meeting is happening and, it looks like there might be something special in August from the team. #NIEdcamp seems to be the perfect vehicle to explore all the areas that come up in TeachMeets for teachers, for whom that 7 minutes makes them wanting to hear more! I hope it will happen. I know that there is the goodwill amongst us to work on this over the next few weeks to make it happen and let teachers know about it.

So, @CurriculumNI let’s all carry the Standard; raise it high; show that the CPD of teachers is vital in this fast-changing educational world and make Northern Ireland the educational Standard that others follow!

#MSFTEduE2 – Final Day

And.. so it came… the final day and what a day it was.

Genius Hour, the inspiration of Angela Maiers – our closing Keynote speaker – gave me a lot to think about. I have consistently said that I don’t want to take the step into principalship. However, listening to Angela and the fellow attendees at E2, I can’t help but think that if I was given the rein to mould a school around this creativity – there could be something in that leadership role…. However, another conversation for another day.

Traditionally, the last day winds down the conference. This year, being involved in the judging of the Challenges, I had to be on top form throughout the morning to give my fellow educators the attention they deserved for their projects and their pitches. To say that I was impressed by the work completed by each of the groups is an understatement. 42 different groups pitched their ideas in three rooms – the results based on three distinct areas of their project. Having been on the other side last year and creating our own project, I found it an excellent learning experience to be on the judging. Being partnered with the excellent Kurt Söser gave me a real insight to the thinking of a wonderful educator. I hope this close partnership continues in the future.

WP_20150501_13_37_51_ProWhat a wonderful ending happened, though! The current CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, joined the educators for a thirty minute ‘fireside chat’ interview. This ‘WOW’ moment completely ‘blew us all away’ given the status of the man. It was also a reinforcement of the ‘Education First’ policy being adopted by the company. To be given an insight directly and personally from Satya regarding Microsoft’s commitment to seeing education working was inspiring. He spoke about his own family and how he feels technology is helping them. What also stood out was that the work of Lara and Gareth was quoted during the conversation – Ireland’s work truly on the global stage!

WP_20150501_18_11_05_ProAnd, so it ended – in the stunning Experience Music Project. A night of celebration for the educators as well as recognising the work completed over the two days in The Challenge. We witnessed some wonderful pitches in The Challenge and it was with delight that two of the groups that were given awards on the evening included Lara and Gareth. I knew the work that all of our representatives had put into the projects and it was great to see it recognised.

On reflection, I feel that this was the best Microsoft Conference I had attended. Maybe it was because there was no pressure of competition for me or maybe it was the fact the overwhelming feeling that Microsoft was genuinely listening for ideas from the educators gathered. I feel that it was the latter.

From setting up meetings with the developers of OneNote, Sway and Office Mix; through the workshops that encouraged best practice; to the sharing of good practice through the TeachMeets and the final visit from Satya – it was obvious that the company is trying to make this relationship work. The company wants to see the products being used widely (of course it does) and this is a great vehicle for this. By tapping into the creativity of innovative teachers, Microsoft are seeing the ideas being pushed to the limit in many different ways. There were so many ideas on display – from Game Based Learning in Minecraft and ProjectSpark; with productivity solutions included in Skype in the Classroom and collaborative opportunities contained within OneNote – the future of technology in the classroom looks wonderful and, in the hands of some of the educators there – gloriously wonderful.

I, for one, CAN’T WAIT!


Personally, I would like to thank a number of people for the opportunity to attend E2 in Redmond. I was given the opportunity to attend by both Tom Jackson (Microsoft Ireland); Kirsten Panton (Microsoft Western Europe); Anthony Salcito and all the staff at Microsoft, Redmond for a wonderful 5 days; WP_20150501_14_41_58_ProTeam Ireland (consisting of Roisin Rice Cutter and Jarlath MacGill from St. Mary’s College, Derry and Lara Dabbagh and Gareth Callan from Coláiste Bhaile Chláir) for excellent company; ALL the other Fellows with whom I can see the future of education being well taken care off and, finally, all the attendees at E2 – where INSPIRATION doesn’t even cover it!

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#MSFTEduE2 Day 3

WP_20150430_001The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Bravery’ and what better way to demonstrate bravery than to hear the words Ziauddin Yousafzai – the father of Malala. Introducing him, Anthony Salcito played a clip of Malala addressing delegates after receiving the Noble Prize. This certainly had the desired effect of making each of realise the important part we play in children’s lives and, sometimes, how much we take our education and the education of our children for granted.

Indeed, a number of years ago during a ‘Snow Day’ for the children I engaged a number of them in online classes to show that there was no excuse for missing out on some level of education if technology made interaction possible. We used the Collaborate Classroom software to deliver a number of lessons. I used the story of Malala’s shooting as an inspiration for a comprehension piece as well as an online discussion regarding the importance of education and what lengths some children go to to experience schooling. It may have taken a little shine off their snow day – but hey…

As a Fellow at E2, I have had a number of different roles to play that were slightly Twitter0502342different from the normal educators’ track. This was part of the breakout when I was involved in a Minecraft in the Classroom discussion panel. It was very interesting to sit on the panel as I was there as an educator with no experience of Minecraft compared to the other panellists. Noelene Callaghan, Matt Harris and Francisco Tupy were the experts as was Sean Dikkers, our chair, and it was amazing to listen to them address the anxieties that some of the delegates had regarding the use of Minecraft. Indeed – how Noelene went on to use it as the foundation for Computer Science was excellent. Francisco’s work with challenging children through using Minecraft was another excellent example of the power of Game Based and Project Based Learning. WP_20150430_10_47_02_ProTime and again, I found myself wondering how on earth I had managed to be in these people’s company being regarded as an equal.

As Fellows, we had our own TeachMeet between ourselves and I had limited opportunities to hear about some of the work going on in the schools by the other Fellows (Minecraft panel duties). However, What I did hear was outstanding – including Denmark’s Pernille Reenberg showing us how she has set up her own Educator Challenge Style group between schools in Denmark – modelled on the Microsoft Global Conference. Some of the children’s work was incredible. I did get the chance to show my ‘Guerrilla Poetry’ work, but when compared to some of what has been going on in schools, it felt quite tame. However, I think the passion that I showed for the work and the undeniable pride that I have in my children in school managed to come across as many of the Fellows mentioned it in passing. Not least, Kelli Etheridge, who is determined to follow up the work as we link classrooms in the new school year.

WP_20150430_17_25_56_ProOur representative teachers continued to work hard on their Educator Challenge projects with their different teams. This idea of collaboration has many positives and really puts people outside of their comfort zone. I know that there are difficulties in the challenge (having done it last year) not least cultural expectations, though I feel that the positives outweigh this. Being challenged in this way is a unique and fulfilling experience that is more beneficial in retrospect as opposed to reflecting on the benefits in the middle of the pressure of the contest.

Finally, we rounded off the day by visiting the Kent Tech Expo – where dozens of WP_20150430_18_53_36_Proschools from the Kent Education District exhibited their work in a large arena (something like the Odyssey Arena). It was amazing to see how the children of all ages exhibited their work and my heart was melted by two small children (aged 6/7) who wanted to tell me about their interactive book. There were projects of all types but the one thing that struck me was the confidence with which each of the children I spoke to addressed me and other adults in explaining their work. These are the children that our own classes will be competing with as adults in the workplace and was a clear demonstration of the skills that our children will continue to need.

Again, another day to remember…

#MSFTEduE2 Day 2

WP_20150429_08_42_25_ProI’m usually pretty cynical about team building exercises, so when I see them on the agenda, my heart sinks…

Today, however, I have to eat my words! In what was an excellent drumming session led by the ‘Drumming Cafe’ troop, you could feel the atmosphere build in the room. A sense of community was built and we were one as we belted out our rhythms. To see the room move as one was an overwhelming experience – and I am cynical at the best of times.

My track as a ‘Fellow’ is different from the other educators and we had a number of workshops with developers within Microsoft. Without breaking any of their confidentiality, there are many exciting times ahead for users of Office Mix and Sway – and I am genuinely excited at the prospect of their impact in the classroom.

Our representatives from Ireland and Northern Ireland had a TeachMeet session with their colleagues from around the world and it was interesting to hear their feedback from the event as they had the opportunity to teach, and learn from, one another. It was with an immense sense of pride that I saw them sporting Inspiration Ribbons given to them by fellow delegates.

In the island of Ireland, we always feel that we are ‘punching above our weight’ in theseWP_20150429_12_48_24_Pro circles and, again, our representatives didn’t disappoint! It was great to see Gareth Callan from Coláiste Bhailie Chláir, Galway showing Anthony Salcito the work that his school does with OneNote and even more pleasing to hear that the film crews will be around again tomorrow to do a more in-depth interview with Gareth and Lara

In the afternoon, the delegates were given the opportunity to begin working on their collective task. With teams made up off members from around the world, there are many barriers to negotiate – not least language and culture, so I await with interest the work that is brought to us (as part of the judging panel).

WP_20150429_12_52_03_ProAs well as this sharing, I had the great pleasure to see the work of Marija Petreska from Macedonia on using shapes within PowerPoint to create infographics. I was blown away by the work she does and must follow this up in the future! What was even more inspiring was the conversation we had about moving our children and societies beyond conflict – the parallels were frightening. Marija is a shining light with the work she is doing.

Finally, the same message is coming through again and again – Microsoft is listening (and listening intently) to the feedback from this conference. It is a listening exercise for everyone and I can’t wait to see the outcomes in the coming months.

In the end, the message is simple – We Are Educators…WP_20150429_15_19_49_Pro

And it looks like Microsoft are with us all the way!